11 Oct 2021

Who Has Been Speaking?

For years, I have wanted a simple pie chart to be visible during meetings that plotted how much time each person has spent speaking.

I think this is a case where simply having data visible would affect what happens in a positive way. We would remember to hear from quieter folks, and those who just haven’t gotten into the habit of talking. In unstructured meetings, my experience is that a few voices end up dominating the conversation.

Before, when we were all in a conference room, this would have taken some sophisticated low-level (speech) natural language processing to determine. We’d need some kind of high quality microphone(s), and software to distinguish which voice belonged to whom.

Now, in the Zoom era, tracking the amount of time each person spent talking was uniquely trivially possible. And yet, I’ve never been in any meeting—Zoom, Google video, or otherwise—that displayed something like this.

I’ve heard some sales call software does this. I also think there may be some niche video calling providers that implement it. Which is awesome. But there’s no way I’m going to convince the school or companies I work with to abandon their enterprise Zoom / Google subscriptions for this one feature.

So, chalk this one up as another tiny woe of un-moddable software: we can’t easily alter the programs we run, even in small ways.1

  1. There’s a chrome extension for Google Meet called Talk Time. Presumably this would then show people’s talking quantities on your own screen. It’s fantastic that the developer made this—way more useful than just complaining on their website, like me—but you’d need to get everyone in your meeting to install it to cause the social effects I mentioned above. To have a truly “moddable” video software, your plugin would have to display on everyone’s screens. (And hopefully include some kind of chart or graph.) 

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