There’s nothing quite like snuggling up with a friend — or friends — and streaming a movie on Netflix.
But what if those Netflix buddies are spread out around the world? How, then, can you enjoy a film together, cracking wise and taking in each other’s reactions?
A new service called Rabbit aims to bridge that geographical gap for Netflix watchers everywhere. The website — memorably located at www.rabb.it — lets you stream videos from Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and elsewhere on a single page, which pairs with a video chat service that lets up to 10 people watch the stream at once.
The heads of the people in the video chat float below the shared screen. A group text chat can pop out from the right side of the website, if you don’t want to interrupt the audio.
We’ve been testing Rabbit for the past two weeks at Yahoo Tech, using it for editorial meetings and general frivolity. I found that it’s easy to pop on any video you’d like and share it with teammates or friends. I also like that you can visit any webpage you want by typing the URL into what Rabbit calls the “Sharepad” — that row of streaming services you see just above the bubbleheads.
Though Rabbit lists Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, MLB.TV, Google Drive, and BuzzFeed, you can co-visit any site with a Web address using Rabbit. That made it easy for my team, for example, to look at an article, and chat about what we liked and didn’t like.
Rabbit is based entirely in the browser, so you don’t need to download a separate app to use it. Once you visit a Rabbit room, your webcam immediately starts up and inserts you into the chat — no registration, usernames, or passwords required.
Navigation within the streaming site, especially if you want to scroll down a page or highlight text, can be a little clumsy; you are basically using a virtual mouse on a virtual version of Google’s Chrome browser, and the cursor can be finicky. But once you get the video going, or the page loaded, the service does its job, playing the video without interruption for all parties.
If you are using Rabbit exclusively to video chat — an alternative to Google Hangouts or Skype, or any number of video conferencing services — there are drawbacks. There is a 10-person maximum per chat room, with no option to increase the number of participants. There is no way for the host of the chat to select whose face appears largest when he is talking; the service chooses the speaker, and sometimes it chooses incorrectly, so you are left staring at someone’s blank face while another person is talking. Those who have used Google Hangouts will find themselves longing for that service’s array of party hats and mustaches. More pressingly, right now Rabbit supports only the Google Chrome and Opera browsers; that means more than half of all Internet users would have to open up a different browser than the one they normally surf on.
But Rabbit certainly has advantages over more familiar video chat services. No one needs to make an account to start or join a chat, for example: You just open a room and then send a link to whomever you want to invite. (You can also register and create your own private, permanent room, password-protected or not.) The screen-sharing feature can be incredibly fun and is easy to use. And the design of Rabbit is super clean and appealing — and much more modern than Google+, Vidyo, or Skype.
Rabbit says it is working on adding support for more browsers and platforms, and that additional features are in the works. I’ll certainly be watching to see how the service improves and builds on its current bare-bones state. With its easy screen sharing and attractive design, the foundation for Rabbit is solid enough to support much more.
Indeed, for friends, colleagues, or Netflix streaming buddies who want to watch and talk about almost anything on the Internet together, Rabbit is definitely a big bunny hop in the right direction.