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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Hexagon?
Hexagon is a project of The Centre for New Media, which is a part of The Knowledge Media Institute, based at The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.

What does it do?
It is a simple but sophisticated web based 'presence' tool allowing a group of people to stay in touch with each other within a private, persistent, virtual 'room'. As long as you have an internet connection you can join 'your' Hexagon community anywhere in the world.

I'm interested but how much does it cost?
Nothing at the moment... It is an on-going research project and as long as you don't mind the content and use of the room being used for our research, and from time-to-time answering questions about your experience using Hexagon, for the time being it is free to use. An ideal user group would be a small community from the educational or business 'world' that work apart but would benefit from regular (or permanent) contact using Hexagon.

What did you use to create it?
Hexagon is written in Adobe Flash, an application that creates programs that 'run' using a standard web browser plug-in which is used throughout the world.

What do I need to use it?
A correctly set-up and working computer connected to the internet, running a modern web browser with the Flash 9 plug-in installed. Windows and Mac based computers work fine. Linux based machines can run Hexagon but you may have problems getting your web cam and sound to work.

Will it work on Linux based machines?
The Hexagon program itself works fine with Linux if you have a modern browser with Flash 9 or greater plug-in installed. However, you may have difficulty getting both video and audio to work properly. We have had success with a usb web cam and separate microphone plugged into the computer's sound card, using Red Hat Linux.

Is Hexagon secure?
Each Hexagon room can be restricted to allow access only to users registered for that specific room. A person has to separately register for each room and await the room's moderator to accept their request by email, therefore only authorized people will be found in the room.
If a room is set to allow guests anybody with the correct url to the room will be able to enter (up to the maximum number of guests allowed into the room at one time). This can be both a good and bad thing depending on the situation, which is why it is an option for each room.

I get a error page when I click the Register button?
This may indicate that you do not have port 8080 open.

What are the restrictions for Guests?
Guests cannot initiate a Voice chat, or send a text message 'To All' people and they cannot view the contents of the 'Reg Users' tab. Depending on the setting for the room they are in they may have a time limit until they are automatically 'logged out' of the room.

What is the 'Screened' button used for?
Every ten seconds or so a 'snapshot' picture from your camera is distributed to everyone in the room. If you feel that you would prefer people not to be able to see your image for a period of time, by clicking the screened button, a 'screen' of small hexagon shapes will obscure your image on every computer connected to the room. Clicking the button again will resume distributing your image. You can set a preference to always appear screened.

Does everyone see the same layout as me?
No. Each layout of hexagons on the grid is up to the individual user. You can leave it to simply automatically place the hexagons as people enter (a new hexagon will be placed as near to your own as is possible). Or you can rearrange them into groups or shapes as you wish, but they will always only appear that way on your machine.

How do I move an individual hexagon on the 'grid'?
Click on an individual hexagon and a pallet appears. One of the buttons is titled 'Move Hex' click the button and move the hexagon to an unoccupied place on the grid and click. A quick method is to simply hold down the Ctrl (Cmd) key and drag the hexagon to a new location.

How do I speak to a fellow Hexagon user?
Click on an individual hexagon and a pallet appears. Click the 'Voice Chat' button to open a dialogue 'box' on the owner's machine asking whether they would agree to chat with you. You will see their decision and if they agree their image will appear next to yours in the Voice Chat pop-up 'box'. Click the 'Speak' button to begin and end your transmissions. Only one person can speak at a time.

Why is the frame rate low?
Hexagon is designed to be left on. A frame rate of one frame every ten seconds or so is fine over hours and days, providing useful 'presence' information at a minimal cost to data rate.

What is the status button used for?
Click the 'Status' button to get a list of status indicators that you can use to inform others of your current situation. For example, if you have to pop out for a few minutes click the 'Temp Away' button and a yellow status indicator appears on your hexagon on all user's machines, informing them that you will not be around for awhile. If you display the 'Do Not Disturb' state, you will still receive text messages but not hear any audible warning and you cannot be invited for a voice chat.
Registered users can also click the 'Custom...' state button to add a short comment, that everyone else can read by 'rolling over' the 'triangular' icon that appears over the state bar.

What is the difference between 'local' and 'remote' video?
This only effects what you see on your own hexagon. 'Local' video displays your camera's output at about five frames per second directly to your hexagon. Remote video displays the same snapshot image that everyone else is seeing (i.e. it is being sent back to you from the Hexagon server). As the camera is only used approximately every ten seconds some users will notice a saving on processor load using the 'Remote' setting. Be aware however that images on some Macs have a tendency to be 'lost' and turn 'grey' when using this setting.

What is the 'Remote Camera Delay' in the preferences screen?
When you choose to use 'Remote' video, this slider adjusts the length of time the image is captured from the camera after it is switched on. The farther the slider is to the right the longer the period of time. Depending on your camera and the light conditions if the period is too short a 'colour cast' may be seen or even just a black image. The ideal is to leave the slider at the left but some cameras may need extra delay to produce a well exposed image.

Why does an image go grey?
If an image is not updated, over the course of five minutes, it will gradually disappear leaving a 'grey' hexagon. This is meant to reduce the risk of seeing an image that is too out-of-date. Unfortunately this is not always reliable as sometimes the image can 'get stuck'. Also some Macs have a tendency for their images to 'go grey'. Both of these seem more likely to occur if Hexagon is run 'in the background' on 'slower' machines.
If your camera goes 'grey' you will need to reactivate it. Sometimes switching between 'Local' and 'Remote' view is enough to get a picture back, otherwise open the Flash video settings 'box' (either from the Hexagon preferences screen or right click on Hexagon) and click on the small rectangle where the video image should appear. You may also have to chose your camera from the drop down list.

How do I quit Hexagon?
Simply close the browser window. Note that you will lose any text chat. You can also use the 'Log off' tab. This will return Hexagon to the 'Log in' screen ready for another user, clearing the session ready to start 'fresh' (i.e. clearing the text chat and positions etc.)

How can I change Hexagon's size?
Use the 'html' links below Hexagon. This reloads the web page and you will need to log back in. Also any text chat etc. will be lost. The size is 'remembered' over 'sessions' the next time you go to the room.
You can change the size of the hexagons as displayed in Hexagon by using the controls on the 'Hexes' floating pallet, or clicking on a hexagon and choosing 'Zoom hex' from the pop-up menu.

Can I get more details about an individual Hexagon user?
Yes, click on a hexagon and choose 'Details' from the pop-up menu. An extra panel will be revealed giving more details about the person and machine they are using. Also if you are a registered user of the room you will be able to see a list of other registered users and when they were last in.

Can I get more details about a room?
Yes, if you are a registered user of the room you will be able to see the 'Reg Users' panel. This contains a list of registered users for the room and when they last visited the room. Also available is a set of graphs showing the use of the room and HexMail.

What is HexMail?
If you are a registered user of the room you can send a text message to another registered user, who is not in the room at the time, using HexMail. The message will be stored until that person next enters, when the message will be passed to them.

Will I have problems using Hexagon with a Firewall?
Hexagon does work with most Firewalls. When you first use Hexagon it will automatically search out one of a number of predetermined 'ports' (443; 80; http tunneling' on port 80; 1935) and save the 'successful' one to speed up subsequent connections. If you fail to get a connection ask your network administrator to open one of the port numbers.
You will also need to have port 8080 open for some features of Hexagon to work.

Can I use Hexagon without a web cam and/or microphone?
Yes, you will still see other people's images and you can use the text chat to communicate.

Will Hexagon work with a modem?
Yes, Hexagon is low data rate friendly, although voice chat might 'breakup' sometimes, depending on the quality of your connection.

How is the room moderated?
Each Hexagon room has one or more 'Moderators' who will automatically receive an email from a person applying to become a registered user of the room. Assuming acceptance, the moderator has access to a simple web page that allows them to 'enable' the applicant for 'registered user access' to the room. The process is also reversible.
An 'Administrator' of a particular room can set some of its preferences, for example, whether guests are allowed and if so for how long. A person can be both an Administrator and Moderator.

Why does my camera not work with Hexagon, as it is working in another application?
Some web cams don't seem to be able to 'share' video 'between' applications. If this happens shut down the other application and reload Hexagon.

How can I stop the Flash 'Privacy' popup box appearing each time I start Hexagon?
Click on the 'Open Privacy Settings' button in the Hexagon preferences window to open the Flash preferences popup. 'Check' the 'Remember' option, so that a tick appears in the square next to 'Remember'. The privacy box should not appear again.

Can I send URL's in the text chat?
Yes, both web and email addresses should be 'active' links. Web addresses should begin with http:// or www to become active. An address that is over 128 characters long will not work but it is highlighted in a light blue so that you can copy it and then paste it into your browser's address bar.

How can I find a text message I wrote some time ago?
Click on the 'Load previous' button on the Text Chat screen, to see the previous messages between yourself and another 'Registered user', up to the number in the box beside the button. You can type another number to see a different amount if you wish. This feature does not work in the Hexagon 'demo' room.
A similar feature is available on the 'Reg Users' screen which has the additional benefit that the person does not have to be in the 'room' for you to view the last messages between you.

Why are there envelopes flying across my screen?
When someone sends a text chat message, a representation of the event is shown on the 'Hexes' screen as a line between the two people, with an envelope traveling along the line from the sender to the recipient. You can turn this off by selecting 'no' in the preferences screen.

Can I make Hexagon 'login' automatically?
Yes, if you are a registered user of the room. Click the button just under the 'password input box' on the login screen to save all of your 'login' details (a tick appears on the button). When you next start Hexagon it will automatically 'login' and take you straight to the 'Hexes' screen.

How do I switch off automatic login?
Click the 'log off' button in the menu and 'log off' the room. Click the close button in the bottom right of the dialogue box that appears. Click the 'Login' button and the 'log in' screen appears. 'Un-tick' the small button under the password input box.