Getting Started on Gather: For When You Need an Online Space that Feels Like the Real Deal

If you had been keeping an eye out on our social media accounts or on our recent newsletter, you would’ve heard a bit about Gather by now. For those who haven’t, Gather is a software used for online meetings. Other programmes that perform similar tasks include Zoom and Google Meets. However, Gather features a visual virtual room you can navigate with an avatar, not unlike a video game.


Creating Your Own Space

Because of this defining feature, Gather has the advantage to create a designated space for whatever events you need. You would have heard by now about the importance of designating separate spaces for work and play during lockdown to maintain mental boundaries and schedules. Gather can help organise your virtual workspaces in a similar manner by creating a tangible place for a specific purpose. When we were decided to use Gather for Makerspace, we thought that it can help bring students in a mindset that they’re here for Makerspace just like how they would be back in the real world.

Gather itself provides a lot of unique templates if building your own space seems daunting to you – from regular office spaces and conference halls to something a little more unique like a spaceship or a pirate ship. As you build your own dedicated spaces on Gather, you’ll discover that you can assign tiles for different purposes:

  • Impassable tiles: self-explanatory but this the mode you would assign to walls and other spaces your members cannot pass through.

  • Private spaces: When entered, this space will black out the surrounding areas while leaving itself isolated. No matter how close other are, they cannot hear the members inside these spaces unless they too are in the same private space.

  • Spotlight: When entered, you can address everyone in the space, regardless of distance or whether they’re in a private space. Ideal for big announcements or speakers in online conferences.

  • Spawn: An assigned area where you start when joining the space. Ideal for entrances.

  • Portal: Teleports people to other rooms or spaces.

There are a lot of items you can add to your space, from regular chairs and tables to interactive items such as Tetris bricks. However, if you can’t find what you were looking for, you can create and upload your own graphics into the space. Just mind this guide that one tile is the size of 32x32 pixels – if you can keep this in mind, it can help keep your imported items consistent in size.


Exploring Your Gather Space

Once you have your space built, now comes the time to experience more of what Gather has to offer. When you first start, you create your avatar that will navigate you around the space. You can change its appearance anytime, but options are somewhat limited and unlike items, you cannot import your own avatar items into Gather.

Once you enter the space, try to go up to another avatar and talk to them. The method of "physically" walking up to people in order to chat to them is one of the basic features of Gather - it replicates real world logic where in order to hear someone you would need to be standing close to them. This also gives users in the space the ability to choose who to talk to without being in a designated video chat or needing to enter a new program entirely. We especially found this useful with Makerspace as we can chat to each member personally in Gather while the rest of the class can do their own thing, just like in a real classroom environment.

You may find that when you walk towards certain objects, they will glow and suggest a prompt to press the 'X' button in order to interact with it. These interactive objects can be set in various ways; Gather itself has pre-set items where they already have links embedded into them - they are mostly shared whiteboards or games such as Tetris which are open for everyone to interact with. In addition, you can create your own interactive items that leads into any online links you have, either with pre-existing assets or your own assets. Either way, if enabled by your host, all members can add or delete their own items into the space using the Build/Erase tool at the side bar.

A final thing we have found useful in Gather is its Screen Share. Though it works similarly with other video conference apps, We have found that it can allow for multiple screens to be shared and the ability for individuals to decide on which screen to focus on. For our specific purposes in Makerspace at least, we found this helpful as our own students would like to share their work at the same time and we can all see each student's live progress in our own pace.

As we continue to explore Gather, we learn more about its features, benefits and limitations. The more we learn about this programme, the more we can adapt our workshop to suit Gather's style and still fulfil what we need. Stay tuned especially with Makerspace as we grown into using Gather and we hope these basics can help ease you in when you look to use it for your next meeting.

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