During the pandemic we’ve gotten used to a primarily virtual social and work life. Meetings take place on platforms like Zoom or Jitsi and are working reasonable well. Watching your coworker with a video-stream is surprisingly effective and generates a kind of remote closeness. Online workouts do not involve sharing the same sweatty gym and still there is a kind of togetherness.
In this context, what is known proximity chat, spatial audio or spatial chat respectively, has become increasingly popular. A list compiled by Star Simpson and Devon Zuegel lists 42 platforms that can be regarded as proximity chats. The concept of proximity chat elicits comparisons to Second Life: after all you move around in a virtual environment and talk with people online. However, there is one major difference: in contrast to Second Life, you use proximity chat to connect with your existing social groups.
There are basically two user interface approaches for proximity chats: table-based and map-based. Table-based platforms let you jump from one virtual table to another. Here, you can talk to the people that are “sitting” at the virtual table. This can be compared with Zoom breakout rooms. Map-based platforms on the other hand, let you navigate on a map and you can join conversations by positioning your avatar near someone else’s. As soon as you are in the proximity of another avatar, you can see/hear them through their audio/video feed. Moving away fades out the audio/feed.
Overall it’s an interesting field that has gained momemtum in the last months. We think there are interesting opportunities for this kind of platform in retail that wait to be explored.