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Rabbit is taking the clunkiness out of Internet video chat, and now it has a new chief executive. Michael Temkin, a serial entrepreneur and advisor to the company, has been appointed CEO, replacing Greg Fischbach, a cofounder who will become executive chairman.
Rabbit wants to become the real-time social fabric for the web, providing video chat services that link people in intuitive ways.
“I’m very excited to be a part of driving this forward,” Temkin said in an interview with VentureBeat. “We’re very interested in changing the way people communicate online. Rabbit finally brings together one of the big promises of the Internet, which is to be able to bring people together independent of geography.”
Rabbit is also launching a browser-based product extension that companies can embed in their sites to add video chat functionality. Rabbit wants to build a revolution in communication around better video chat, where people can connect to each other and see the other person in little circles on their computer screens. You can add people to have a bigger group conversation, and you can browse among various conversations to find one you’d like to join. And Rabbit is also able to stage large-scale events like movie-watching parties or music concerts where people can all watch and interact together.
Rabbit has a very different feel to it than Google Hangouts or Skype. When you log in, you’ll have a choice of entering a variety of different conversations, which could be organized around any label. If you click on one, you will hear a mishmash of voices as if you just walking into a party at somebody’s house. You’ll see circles with the faces of people attending the online gathering. You can people-watch before you go in.
You’ll see them talking and moving their faces in real-time. If you hover your mouse cursor over an image, you’ll get more details about the person. If someone is attached to several other circles, that means he is engaged in a conversation with them. You can click to join that conversation as long as it isn’t roped off as private. You’ll find that the sound changes to match the voices in the room. No longer will you hear the murmur of other people in the larger party. Then, you can chat.
Temkin said that the San Francisco company will expand its audience shortly beyond the 10,000 people who participated in a closed beta test since February. Now the company is adding limited functionality for web viewing, and it has a native client available for the Mac. With a formal launch, the company will add the Windows PC and other platforms over the next six months.
“The most important insight from the beta is that we need to make Rabbit available everywhere so people can interact with their friends from whatever computer or device they want,” Temkin said. “It validated our ideas about chat rooms, content sharing, and learning.”
Video isn’t easy to get right, particularly when people try to do it over low-quality wireless connections. Morgan said Rabbit’s technology will scale properly, and it has reduced bandwidth needs in part because it is peer-to-peer. Some of that technology comes from a good understanding of how massively multiplayer online games operate.
Developers can take Rabbit’s software development kit (SDK) and embed video chat into their own web sites for purposes such as technical support with real human contact. The company is announcing these extensions at the TV of Tomorrow conference in New York. Temkin said he hopes developers add “watch with friends” buttons to their web sites so fans can watch shows together.
Temkin said that broadcaster and media companies will be able launch large-scale, real-time social events with Rabbit in the future. They can set up large music concert chats and then sit back as people separate themselves into smaller conversations. The conversations can be public or private, and people can exchange content with each other, almost as if they were in the same physical space, Temkin said. The applications include entertainment, education, internal communications, and enterprise chat.
Temkin was previously CEO of Augniscient, a machine-learning technology company. He was also chief technology officer at Hands-On Mobile, a leading mobile video game publisher.
The company has 15 employees and has raised $3.3 million in funding from Google Ventures, CrunchFund, and Michael Birch.
Nicholas Reichenbach, cofounder and president, said, “Now, for the first time, you can watch TV, VOD, and other video content together with your friends and even meet new people, live online. Our earlier partnership announcements with Samsung Smart TV and MTV live music concerts are great testimonies to this advanced social viewing experience using the Rabbit platform.”
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