Stooa review — a free online fishbowl tool

stooa reviewI’m a big proponent of fishbowls as a tool to manage wide-ranging group discussions. (To learn in detail about the use and implementation of fishbowls and fishbowl sandwiches, see Chapters 29 and 30 of my book Event Crowdsourcing.) So when I heard about a free tool for online fishbowls — Stooa — I thought I’d take a look. Here’s my initial Stooa review.

How to start with Stooa

It’s easy to start working with Stooa. Registering a (free) account requires the usual information: name, email, and password. You can also add your Twitter and/or LinkedIn profiles if desired.

Once you’ve registered your account, you’re ready to create a new fishbowl.

As you can see, you can specify a discussion topic, add a description, and schedule the fishbowl start and duration (up to four hours; though that would be cruel and unusual punishment). You can also choose a language to use. Currently the choices are English, Spanish, French, and Catalan. On clicking Create fishbowl you’ll see a summary of your new fishbowl, together with a link to distribute to others so they can join it. You’ll also receive an email with the same information — a nice touch.

Starting your fishbowl

When you click on Go to the fishbowl, Stooa will ask for permission to use your camera(s) and microphone(s). (Once you’ve joined a fishbowl, you can choose which ones to use.) Enter how you’d like to display your name, and you’ll see this screen:

When you’re ready to begin, click Start the fishbowl. At this point the camera and microphone will be active just for you. Share a short introduction with the waiting attendees. When done, you’ll appear in one of the five fishbowl “seats”. Click Allow attendees to join the conversation to begin discussion.

Running your fishbowl

At the top of the screen you’ll see the remaining time for the fishbowl, a button to end it, and the number of attendees present. Clicking on the latter displays a list of people currently in the seats, followed by the remaining attendees. The list includes links to the Twitter and LinkedIn profiles of each attendee if they entered them.

At this point, attendees can enter/leave one of the fishbowl seats by clicking on the Join/Leave the conversation button at the bottom of the screen. The other buttons allow participants to choose and control their camera and microphone.

Five participants is a good maximum for a controlled and useful discussion. Stooa smoothly implements entry and departure of fishbowl participants.

When your discussion is over, use the End fishbowl button to close the session.

Stooa review — what do I think?

Here are my initial impressions from a brief look. First, I want to acknowledge Stooa’s creator, Runroom, for developing this tool and making it Open Source: software with source code that anyone can inspect, modify and enhance. Hosting the software so that anyone can use it is another Runroom gift. They explain why they did so here. Thank you Runroom!

Stooa was easy to register and use on Chrome or Safari. First time users should have little difficulty, as the entire onboarding process is designed very well. I haven’t used the tool with a large number of attendees, so I can’t say how it holds up under load. Given that the number of folks simultaneously on video chat is limited to five, I expect it will work fine.

Stooa succeeds admirably in its purpose as a single process tool that facilitates effective group discussion.

Limitations

Currently, you can’t remove a fishbowl participant. This could be a problem if you used Stooa for a public fishbowl discussion, publicized via a link on social media.

In addition, with all seats filled, there’s no way for waiting attendees to indicate that they’d like to join the discussion, so a fishbowl host doesn’t know how many others are waiting to speak. To deal with this, attendees could use a backchannel tool like Slack to message the host that they’d like to join in. Alternatively, adding a hand raise option to the attendee list would help to solve this problem. And incorporating a simple text chat for all attendees into Stooa would provide even greater flexibility.

Stooa is not the only tool for running online fishbowls. In July 2020, I shared how to use Zoom to run fishbowls online. Zoom is, of course, a fee-based platform, but many organizations own a license and Zoom does many other things as well. In this situation, Zoom includes attendee text chat and hand raising. And its breakout rooms allow you to create, inside a single tool, the fishbowl sandwiches I use to facilitate group problem solving.

In an ideal world, the tools we use would include only the features we need. We don’t live in such a world, and Stooa is a well-crafted platform that allows groups to meet and discuss online. Whether it includes everything you need to make such discussions effective and fruitful is ultimately up to you to decide.

More about Stooa

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Stooa review and found it useful. Here are some additional resources for exploring Stooa. Feel free to add your experiences and thoughts in the comments below!

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