Gatherly, Rally, and Wonder comparative review

Gatherly Rally WonderEarlier this year I reviewed (1, 2) three online conference social platforms: Gatherly, Rally, and Wonder ( the new name for  Yotribe since September). Since then, the Gatherly and Rally developers have been hard at work! So here’s a review of the updated versions of these platforms, including comparisons with the relatively unchanged Wonder service.

If this is your first exposure to online social platforms, the “First, some context…” section of the Gatherly/Yotribe review explains what they’re all about, and why they are important new additions to any serious online meeting. (For another, surprisingly neutral, perspective check out this Rally blog post.)

Also, read the above earlier reviews in full, so you understand the basic features and scope of these online social platforms.

As in my earlier reviews, I’ll focus on different aspects of the platforms, and provide information and commentary on each.

Requirements

Not much has changed here, since Gatherly, Rally, and Wonder rely on the same underlying WebRTC technology. All three vendors recommend attendees use Chrome on a laptop/PC, not a mobile device. The platforms all work to some extent in Firefox, but Safari is not recommended.

One tip is to access Gatherly, Rally, and Wonder in an incognito/private window. This minimizes conflicts with any installed browser extensions/add-ons.

In addition, using these platforms on corporate LANs may require asking a sysadmin to allow the platform streams through a corporate firewall. Test before your event!

Bandwidth requirements are typically higher than those needed by, say, a Zoom meeting, since the fluid video-chat connections involve multiple video streams to each device on the platform, rather than the single consolidated feed used in platforms like Zoom and Teams. However, I’m in a rural location with only DSL and cellular connectivity, and have only had a few transitory problems using these platforms.

Setting up and customizing meetings

When I last reviewed Gatherly, the platform required Gatherly staff to set up and customize each event. Rally and Yotribe, on the other hand, were usable as soon as you had a venue.

Gatherly

Gatherly has since added extensive capabilities to build and customize your meetings, via their VESTA tool. This is welcome news, since the lack of “plug-and-play” online meeting setup was a barrier to holding meetings on the platform. The following screenshots illustrate many of VESTA’s useful new features.

Gatherly Rally Wonder

Gatherly hosts can now create multiple events with open/close times, and use PowerPoint to customize an event’s floor backgrounds from a variety of templates. The VESTA portal also provides convenient links to the latest Gatherly guide, tutorial videos, a customizable event brochure template, and a speed test. Later in this post, I’ll describe the pricing model and event analytics included in VESTA.

Soon after my June revue, Gatherly added unlimited “floors”, akin to Rally’s rooms, with “elevators” to move between them.

Rally

Rally has added multiple new customization features since my June review. You can now change the background of your Rally venue and each of your rooms. Rally now allows multiple venue hosts, so it’s easier to collaborate when setting up rooms and features. A convenient drop down makes it simple to transfer between rooms. In addition, rooms and venues can be edited on the fly, making it easy to add/remove/close/open rooms, while an event is going on.

Formerly, Rally’s “improve connection” feature removed the attendee from the meeting so they had to rejoin, answering the same sign on questions as before. This no longer occurs.

Rally can now “archive” a room, so its customizations can now be recalled when needed.

Wonder

Yotribe gave you a room instantly on signing up. Currently, this is no longer true for Wonder. At the time of writing this review, I am still waiting for a Wonder room I requested a week ago. So I haven’t been able to check out Wonder firsthand.

All guests are now in one room, rather than adding more “areas” when the number of people in any area exceeds 36. The home page says: “Wonder rooms can host up to 1,500 guests.” Wonder’s Support FAQ says: “There is no technical limitation to how many guests may fit into one room. If you have more than 2,000 guests it might make sense to run two rooms in parallel.” Either limit is probably ample for most events; the more pertinent issue is how well Wonder works with many attendees.

Wonder now includes room areas, which can be set up by the host. Examples are the Business Tech, Education & Training, and Grant Programs areas shown below. They can be added on the fly, either before or during the meeting.

Gatherly Rally Wonder

 

In addition, you can add a background image to your Wonder room.

Broadcast capabilities

Gatherly

Gatherly can’t broadcast to more than one floor. The company says that the platform handles ~150 people/floor, so broadcasting to a single floor will be fine for many events. Gatherly recommends providing a floor for every hundred attendees. You can, of course add more floors if you want to devote each one to a specific meeting function.

Gatherly hopes to introduce broadcasting to multiple floors in early 2021.

When running a recent event in Gatherly, we noticed that the list of attendees, a very useful feature, showed only the first 60 names. Apparently this limitation is still in place. I hope they fix this soon, since it’s impossible to see and contact every attendee at an event with more than 60 people.

Rally

Like Gatherly, Rally still doesn’t provide a single stage for multiple rooms. This is more of a limitation for Rally, though, as the maximum room size is 35 people. So you can’t currently create a presenter or panel session for more than 35 people. A Rally spokesperson told me that the platform can be set up to support up to 50 people per room, but this requires turning off the background chatter feature. Rally says that people on stage need less bandwidth now, allowing eight people simultaneously.

Wonder

Wonder has added video broadcasting, where all participants see the host’s video stream. While broadcasting is taking place, individual video chats are halted. Up to six people can broadcast simultaneously, and all of them must be authenticated as a host.

Pricing

Gatherly

Gatherly is using two pricing plans, One-Off and Annual, both based on a ticket system, administered in VESTA, that determines the cost of each event you set up. The company is finalizing ticket and annual plan pricing and expects to make this information public shortly.

Rally

Rally has published the following pricing.

Like Gatherly, if you’re planning large events, you’ll need to contact Rally for custom pricing.

Wonder

Wonder pricing is easy; it’s still free! I don’t know how the company can afford to keep providing this service for free, as the bandwidth and server costs for running multiple video stream meetings are higher than services like Skype, FaceTime, and Zoom, and someone’s got to pay them. Feel free to use Wonder for now (assuming you can get a room) but don’t rely on it being free forever.

Limits

Gatherly

Up to 1,000 people per event, ~150 per floor (not a hard limit, but recommended); 5 or unlimited floors, depending on plan; up to 15 people per huddle (group chat); 7-8 on stage; currently, people tab shows a maximum of 60 people.

Rally

“2000+” people per event;  9 people per table; a maximum of 35 people per room (50 people per room is available in beta); up to ~8 per room panel; number of rooms depends on plan.

Wonder

1 room per venue; maximum room size 1,500 attendees? (see above); up to 15 people per circle; a maximum of 15 room areas; up to 6 people can broadcast simultaneously.

Security

Gatherly, Rally, and Wonder make similar privacy and data security claims, regarding the underlying data services.

Gatherly events can have a unique, event-specific URL and password, which provides decent security. An attendee will need to know the correct URL, password, and open times for a specific event.

Access to a Rally venue simply involves providing attendees an unchanging URL tied to the venue. You don’t need a password. (Password protected rooms are “in the works”.) Once someone has this URL, they will have access to the venue at any time it is open. Like Gatherly, Rally allows hosts to chose when rooms are open, so someone with the URL cannot use a venue, as long as you close the venue room(s) when an event is over. If you are using a Rally venue frequently, you could be visited by someone who has been given the venue URL for an earlier event and decided to “pop in” and see if anything is going on. Rally corporate users can request Single Sign-On, which limits attendees to those with the same company domain.

Access to a Wonder room simply involves providing attendees an unchanging URL to the room. You can password-protect a Wonder room. Once someone has the URL and password, they will have access to the venue at any time until you change the password. Frankly, this is like giving people a key to your home that they can use when you’re not there, and I consider it poor security.

Analytics

Gatherly’s VESTA portal includes an intriguing feature: event analytics. Here’s a screenshot of a typical event.

Rally says they can track “time in room per person, what room they visited, how long they were on stage for, how many people were in the room at once, how many uniques, and more”, and provide this information on request.

Conclusion — and an annoyance

Both Gatherly and Rally are fine platforms that are already useful. I continue to be impressed by the fast pace of development from both of these companies. Wonder’s biggest advantage is that, for now, it’s free. I’m not sure that I would pay a significant amount to use it, though.

Gatherly, Rally, and Wonder have one annoying limitation, which, in my understanding, is unlikely to be removed soon. Many online event conveners would like to use a platform like Zoom for their “main” conference, switching to an online social platform for program breaks and socials. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to run two platforms simultaneously on one computer, because each needs exclusive access to camera, microphone, and output sound. Attendees must, therefore, close one platform before opening the other. This is awkward and requires careful pre-event attendee education.

I’m sure Gatherly, Rally, and Wonder have some concern that a major online event platform will build a good-enough online social capability into their product. Right now, I strongly recommend anyone who wants to provide experiences close to those of an in-person social at their online events seriously investigate these platforms.

 

Review of online social platform Rally

Review online social platform RallyAdding to my reports on new platforms providing online incarnations of traditional conference socials, here’s a review of online social platform Rally.

[Added November 23, 2020: after reading this review, see this post for an update on Rally and two other online social platforms: Gatherly & Wonder (formerly Yotribe).]

Two points before we start

First, if you don’t know about online social platforms, check out the introduction included in my earlier reviews of Gatherly and Yotribe.

And second, bear in mind that these platforms are continually improving, making reviews like this one a moving target. For example, Gatherly has significantly increased their platform functionality since I reviewed them two months ago, so be cautious making direct comparisons between my reviews. Be sure to visit the platform websites to get the latest updates. Better yet, get a free time-limited account and check them out yourself.

OK, on with the review.

Platform metaphor

Unlike the birdseye view map metaphor of Gatherly and Yotribe, Rally does something a little different. Rally provides a venue with multiple rooms, and each room can have a variable number of tables.

Currently, each room can hold up to 35 participants, and each table up to 9. The company says they are exploring increasing room size to 50.

Rooms can be named, opened, and closed by the Rally host (indicated with a ☆ next to their name). Venue owners can make other attendees co-hosts. You can set the duration for a room to be open — a nice feature. Rally can provide hosts with a custom URL for their venue.

Rally’s fixed maximum room size approach differs from Gatherly’s (where the typical maximum room size is larger, and can be increased by prior arrangement), and Yotribe’s (people are automatically split into new rooms when a room size of 36 is reached). Here’s a screenshot of a Rally online social.

We are currently in the Upstairs Patio. The room dropdown menu allows us to pick another open room to visit, as shown in the animated image at the bottom of this section.

My current table, where I’m video chatting with Jake and Steve, is shown below Aimey’s video (she’s on stage — more on this later). Three other tables are shown on the right.

Hovering over the picture of any occupant brings up a menu of potential interactions with that person. I can leave my table and join any of the others, and people can join my table too. Or I can invite anyone to sit with me at a new table (you can see me inviting Aimey to join me at a new table).

Since this screenshot was taken, Rally has added an option to make tables private, so no one can join the table or listen in to the conversation there until it’s set to public again.

Finally, Rally is planning to add room background images and color selection, and music background in rooms in the near future.

Sound

Rally has an interesting twist on the sound you hear during an online social. The speaker icon next to the “All Tables” caption allows you to choose the “background chatter volume”. Like an in-person social, you can set this so you can hear some of the conversation at other tables. There are three settings: medium, louder, and off. Some people probably like this. As an older, hearing-impaired guy who is quite auditorily distractible, I want this setting off. Your choice!

Chat and broadcast

Rally has recently added text chat and broadcast to the platform. Chat with the room is currently available, and Rally plans to add single person and table chat soon. The host can broadcast a text announcement to all attendees in all rooms.

Presentation & panel capability

Rally includes “on stage” functionality for each room, which can be useful for small gatherings. But it doesn’t provide a single stage for multiple rooms. So you can’t use Rally to create a presenter or panel session for more than (currently) 36 people.

A host can bring themself and others on and off stage. Folks on stage appear in larger video windows on the upper left of the screen. Anyone speaking on stage will be heard by everyone in the room, and presenters can hear audience response at a reduced level, rather like as if they were speaking at a live event. Rally includes functional presenter screen sharing. An unlimited number of people can be on stage at one time, though there can be bandwidth issues with more than four. If there are more than three people on stage, their video windows are reduced in size

A nice feature is that it’s possible to converse with other people at your table while listening to those on stage. Another feature that could be useful when in stage presentation mode is that Rally allows the meeting host to randomly shuffle table occupants into tables of 2, 3, or 4 people. This can be useful if you are using Rally in a stage plus discussion mode. Presenters can deliver a chunk of content, and then small groups, randomized as necessary, can then discuss what they heard or saw.

However, the room size limit to the number of people who can listen to folks on stage currently limits Rally to a presentation tool for small audiences. They say they’re working to include video broadcasting between rooms.

Experience quality and interface

Like the other platforms I’ve reviewed, Rally works best with Chrome on a laptop or PC. Hosts can login with Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google. A Rally attendee just needs a link to the venue, and only needs to provide their name. If you have multiple input and output sound and video sources, you can choose between them.

I have used Rally a few times, and occasionally experienced glitches. There is an “Improve connection” button, which seems to take you out of the room and bring you in again, losing your place where you left in the process. In general I judge the quality of the video chat as good, but based on my limited experience, not as reliable as Zoom.

One annoying aspect of the interface is that anyone can invite you to a new table at any time without you being able to decline the request. This can be somewhat jarring. I was able to remove someone who was speaking on the stage by inviting them to a new table. A yes/no acceptance option when invited to join a table would solve the problem.

Rally needs to improve its onboarding process for first-time users. Though the interface is pretty easy to understand and use, the current one-page introduction document is barely adequate. Right now, it’s good to have a dedicated host who notices when new attendees appear and helps them acclimatize.

Pricing

Like other online social platforms, Rally is in beta and still firming up pricing. Currently they plan to offer two pricing models, one for repeated events, such as regular team happy hours, and another for one-time events. They expect repeated event monthly costs to be comparable to Zoom pricing. Custom events will be “competitive” and use a per user, per hour model.

Currently you can try a one-room version of Rally for free.

Platform focus

Rally describes its current platform focus as follows:

“Rally’s focus is on networking events. Our ideal markets are internal networking events or small to medium size events (10 to 1000 people); however we have been effective with 1000+ events as well. Our goal is to focus less on one time events and more on monthly recurring events. For us it’s better to sell to associations, businesses, corporate marketers, and student clubs instead of large tradeshows, conferences etc. So I’d position us on the more frequent smaller events scale vs. Gatherly or Yotribe.”

Understandably, most online services today prefer the steady revenues from subscriptions to one-time purchases, and, based on this statement, Rally is no exception. I’m sympathetic, though purchasing a subscription for an independent meeting designer and facilitator like me is probably not a great fit. However, I’m not Rally’s target market! As usual, my behavior will depend on the pricing model Rally chooses.

Conclusions

I like Rally a lot, and I’m enjoying the company’s continual improvement of their feature set and platform. I still slightly prefer Gatherly’s room map interface, but that’s a personal preference that many may not share. Both platforms offer a highly credible and enjoyable online social experience that is sure to be a permanent game-changer for meetings. (Until such platforms become the new normal.) I expect to use and/or recommend both Rally and Gatherly in future. Yotribe’s development seems to have stalled since I reviewed it — right now, in my opinion, it’s not a serious competitor.

There is always more to say, but I hope you’ve found this review of online social platform Rally useful. Please share your experience with Rally, new features, and things I’ve missed in the comments below!