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Show HN: Water Cooler – Always-available chat for teams (watercooler.work)
57 points by rpg3 26 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 35 comments

Hi HN!

I'm Ricky, the founder of Water Cooler. I built Water Cooler to help bridge the gap between async written communication (Slack, email, etc) and live meetings.

As many companies suddenly shifted to remote work, I noticed a growing trend of leaving a Zoom meeting on in the background all day. In other cases, teams are scheduling constant back to back meetings. The reason for this is because teams suddenly needed to find a way to recreate the more informal, spontaneous conversation that you normally get from people being in the same physical location. The issue with this is they were using software designed for meetings to recreate something that happens almost exclusively outside of meetings.

The hope is that Water Cooler's always available rooms will offer distributed teams a more natural way to communicate. And all are voice only by default, so there's less of a draw to stare at our app all day (we want people to work, not stare at Water Cooler non-stop).

A bit about our security in light of everything happening with Zoom: All voice and video data is transmitted via WebRTC and is encrypted on the wire. We use Janus for our SFU (https://janus.conf.meetecho.com/index.html) which is open source and plan on enabling end to end encryption (for everyone, not just the paid users) later this year/early next year via insertable streams. Obviously, we'll be limited to offering this in our desktop app and newer versions of Chrome for the time being, but hopefully that won't be the case for long.

We opened up Water Cooler to anyone without an invite two weeks ago and currently have about 35 teams using it. Would love to know what you guys think!


I actually used Pioneer earlier in the year for another project I was working on, it's great!

First there were cubicles. Engineers could concentrate and get work done. They took a break by choice. The open office destroyed the productivity. One person speaks/gets up/chats with neighbor and everyone is distracted. You have to actively ignore your visual and aural inputs(maybe even smells). Remote work fixed it. You could now focus on your stuff and not worry about constant interrupts to your senses. Along comes water cooler to destroy that. You could say “don’t go the always on room if you don’t want to”. But the fact that it’s there, is distraction. “What is everyone talking about that I might be missing?”

I see it as the opposite. Currently the random conversations in remote work occur in back channels, so using a tool like Water Cooler just makes it easier for these conversations to be public, without the hassle of formal invites. Fear of missing out is the same as when some of your team is talking in the break room and you are at your desk, you have to judge for yourself whether the conversation will be valuable enough for you to justify leaving your desk.

That’s a similar argument I heard when slack cane around. “You don’t have to open the app if you don’t want to” or “You only reply when you want to” etc. But the expectation is that it’s way more synchronous than email for example, which was fine for tech communications because people actually thought for a bit before asking others for help. Slack killed it. And “engagement” is high At the cost of lost productivity. Water cooler is way more synchronous than slack. So it’ll make things worse, IMO. What do you think the water cooler growth guy will come up with next to increase engagement? Always on 1:1 rooms? Always on team rooms? How do you get anything done? What will you think of the team mate who is always missing from those rooms? Not a team-player?

On the subject of synchronous communication, the plan is to add the ability to send video/screen sharing messages to teammates that can be watched later. I eventually want it to be able to handle both sides of that issue you’re talking about, but for the moment, I think you have a lot of teams moving to longer term WFH and they’re trying to replace the office with Zoom. Water Cooler gives them a way to talk without needing to feel like they have to fill an entire meeting block. Additionally, with most recent people using video on Zoom, there’s a huge draw to stare at it all day. We leave video off by default and offer the ability to create voice only rooms, so you can stick it in the background while talking to someone without feeling weird about it.

Overall though, I think the amount of satisfaction (or frustration) you get out of any work place communication app is largely dependent on your management and work environment. If they’re that concerned about you needing to stay logged into an app all day (be it Slack, Water Cooler, etc.) and not about your work output, then it might be time to reconsider your options.

The argument here is again “if it doesn’t work for you, just move on”. Unfortunately, tech world is full of examples that do something slightly evil in order to provide some kind of instant gratification and once it catches on, no one can really opt out without coming across to the rest of the world as a weirdo or a Luddite or an oldie. Don’t have an Instagram account because you don’t want to keep scrolling through pics? You are a Boomer (FYI I am not - see what happened there? I felt the need to clarify). Don’t have a Smartphone? What age do you live in? Etc etc.

It’s not like making Nukes kind of tech where the harm is very obvious and people restrain themselves from making it in general.

It’s like farming/industrial revolution/social media kind of irreversible change where people actually welcome it and realize the evils a few (or a few hundred) years later.

That said, power to you if it catches on because If this succeeds and you make a ton of money, you will not be needing to be part of any room while you will be enjoying the money you earned by making the few productive office workers’ day less productive and more annoying while making countless believe-anything office workers‘ “feel” they are more productive.

Love the website, it looks absolutely fantastic. I thought it communicated the main points excellently, and I was glad to get to see some screenshots of the app in action too. I definitely want to sign up now. Always available rooms are a very cool idea, something a lot of teams will love! Congrats on launching!

Thank you, I'm glad you liked it! Feel free to sign up for a free account.

Now if only we could add the shitty office snacks and bitter as hell coffee, it would be just like normal

Wait, you guys had office snacks? We barely had the bitter coffee!

Yeah we all chipped in and got a Nespresso machine :P

Great idea! The design is a little too "inspired" by Slack though. I would strongly recommend adding at least basic video capability in the free version, since I don't think most people (including me) are going to want to pay without even trying it out.

Thanks! The design is still relatively simple, but that will be changing soon as I build out more of the features. There's a 7 day free trial where you get full access to Water Cooler, and after that you're downgraded to the free tier.

With that said, we're actually still finishing up the billing system so anyone signing up right now gets an extended free trial until then. I'll make a note to further advertise the initial free trial though because it's easy to miss at the moment.

Sqwiggle is an ancestor to this started by Michael Gutman and Matt Boyd c.2012-2013. Some teams at IBM used it. But it freaked people out because it would auto-take a snapshot via your webcam to recreate presence. I thought it was great, but everyone else thought it was creepy. https://web.archive.org/web/20150316035657/https://www.sqwig...

Yeah that is a little creepy haha. Water Cooler doesn't do any surveillance like that.

Looks great. On mobile now but will try it on desktop later. Is the pricing really sustainable though? Seems incredibly cheap for something that’ll be sucking up bandwidth and CPU for 8+ hrs/day.

Thanks, excited for you to try it! Long term, there will be an additional paid tier once we have the feature set to necessitate it.

However, even at the current $8/month price it's still highly profitable as far as the infrastructure goes. The voice/video servers run on Digital Ocean, so the servers themselves are pretty affordable and the bandwidth is dirt cheap. Additionally, most of our users have kept it audio only (the default setting) so far which obviously requires less resources to process.

Great concept and looks like some great execution on designing for a professional environment.

What would you say are the advantages of Water Cooler over Discord?

Thank you! At present time, you get an environment that is designed specifically for the workplace -- more private by nature because everything is scoped to and only available to your organization, higher quality video chat, and higher quality screen sharing (at least when compared directly to the free version of Discord).

Long term, we'll be adding in more enterprise features like user permissions, multiple teams within an organization, SSO, and a live broadcast feature that lets you do an all-hands with your entire organization.

My very first worry about these things is privacy. Surely work stuff shouldn't be discussed in there but given that E2E isn't mentioned what are the privacy guarantees compared to e.g. Zoom?

If no encryption is present then why wouldn't I use Discord which also has features like screen sharing?

Congrats on launch!

I actually did discuss the security aspect in my first comment, although that’s a bit lost in the mix right now.

Essentially, we use WebRTC for the voice/video and everything is encrypted on the wire. Goal is to roll out E2E later this year/early next year via insertable streams. That will be available to everyone, not just the paying customers.

I would note though that currently none of the big meeting software offers E2E encryption, except Webex I believe. Discord included, they only offer encryption on the wire.

I think the long term answer to the Discord question though is that many large organizations are 1) not going to trust a consumer product and 2) we’ll eventually offer the user administration you need to really handle 100’s if employees that Discord doesn’t have. Discord could be great for small teams here and there, but it’s still a consumer product first.

I think ironically I’d be more shy to use this than a physical ping pong room. Not sure why though, but I think it’s the lack of a real life space and lack of an agenda combined. Maybe I’d get use to it.

FWIW, I’m a pretty shy person and actually find the idea of Water Cooler less stressful than having to call someone, wonder if they’re going to answer, and then worry about when they might call later. But that’s me haha

Looks great! If I've to incorporate this, would the workflow become Slack + Zoom + Water Cooler? Or would this replace any of Slack/Zoom?

In the next week or two I'm rolling out direct calls. If you don't need to do external meetings, then this could definitely nix Zoom. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it would replace Slack because most teams still need that text communication option, but long term that is an area I want Water Cooler to tackle.

Interesting. The concept looks like Tandem. Also, I'm working on your app for the individual use cases. remotehour.com

Sort of a similar use case. I think they go a little too heavy on tracking your open windows/URLs and broadcasting it, but that’s just me.

Remote Hour looks really cool for the freelancer use case. Nice job on winning Pioneer! I was able to crack the top 25 with my last project but was always passed over on the review.

Looks cool! Congrats on the launch!


We are currently using pragli which is free and does the job well enough

Happy to hear you have a solution you’re satisfied with :)

Congrats on launch!

Thank you!

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