September, 2010 – The Australian spring was just beginning and a cool breeze was in the air. The cockatoos were singing their song and the wallabies bouncing playfully. Atlassians were frolicking in the grass and a group of us – Stephen Russell, Martin Jopson, Rob Smart and myself – were on the hunt for a meeting room. We had  forgotten to book a room ahead of time, and so we needed to find an empty one at the last moment. But disaster struck.

The halls seemed endless as we prowled in search of an empty room. It seemed like we had been walking for ages, and Martin had nearly given up when suddenly we found an empty room in which to to have our meeting. We rejoiced and connected a laptop to the projector. But our smiles turned to frowns when our meeting was interrupted by a shout from the door. Alas! Another group had already laid claim to the room in Google Apps, and we were vanquished back to the hallway to begin our search anew. A lone tear rolled down Rob’s face as we continued our endless quest.

“Curses!” we cried in angst. “The lack of transparency surrounding meeting room availability has stolen precious hours of our springtime!” We vowed we would not rest until the problem was solved.

Thus, forged from that sorrow, the Fellowship of MEAT began.

…At least that’s how I remember it. Alternatively, historians will tell you that MEAT is the name of a two-year-old ShipIt project between our group of four. Allegedly the four of us formed a team that wanted to improve the quality of meetings at Atlassian. We decided that transparency of meetings was the problem we could solve best in 24 hours. And at the end of the ShipIt, we shipped a solution.

Behold. MEAT.

Isn’t it glorious? MEAT means Meeting Evaluation Administration Technology. Or maybe it was Meeting Expanse Availability Terminal. No it had to be MEAT Empowers Any Tablet…right? At any rate, MEAT means never having to say you’re sorry (that you stole somebody else’s meeting room accidentally).

MEAT connects to your company’s calendar provider (Google Apps) and shows meeting information on your phone and on displays around your office. It easily lets you see which meeting rooms are open and which are booked. It tells you which meeting is happening inside the room, and who booked it. MEAT runs on any tablet or smartphone (ok, maybe not any device, but most will work). If you want to use MEAT with a meeting room source other than GApps, I’d love to help you – a pull request or an issue would be well received.

We’ve been using MEAT at Atlassian for two years now, and it has become a major feature of our offices. You pretty much can’t walk down the hall without seeing a MEATpad.

 

This ubiquity is thanks to Jim Severino, the IT Operations Manager here at Atlassian, who looked at our ShipIt result and ran with it. He went out and bought a pile of iPads and set up some beautiful mountings with Wallee and some Griffin 3-meter-usb-to-dock power cables in our old office in front of each meeting room to display the first MEAT.

So how does MEAT work?

MEAT is a NodeJS web app. You run up the server behind your firewall (so it’s safe from meeting room cyber-vandals), and all your phones and tablets hit it to get the UI.

If a room is currently free for the taking, that room’s MEAT display shows up green.

Room Free Screen

If it’s booked, you see bright red instead.

Room Busy Screen

Pretty bawdy color scheme, eh? All the better for quick viewing from a distance!

No matter the state, MEAT always gives you details on the current meeting and the next upcoming meeting (if there are any). It will tell you:

    • who the organizer is,
    • what the topic of the meeting is, and
    • how long the meeting will last, so you know whether you can use that room right now.

It’s handy if you’re not sure which room your meeting is in, and you don’t want to risk interrupting the wrong meeting.

Suppose you need a room right now. MEAT caters to that. You can click the screen to bring up a booking interface, and quickly book the room for up to an hour. If the current room is taken, you can book a different room instead.

Booking Screen → Booked Screen

If you look at MEAT from your phone, you’ll see a quick list of rooms that you can use to survey what’s available. Click any one of them for more information. You can book a room on the go – for those last-minute FILDI meetings to make a decision and get on with it.

Room List Screen

I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback about MEAT and made improvements over the past two years, and thought it was about time to share it publicly. MEAT is open-source, so feel free to check it out and submit a pull request. Sometimes visitors to our offices ask about it and want to use it in their own offices. Rumor has it that Amazon‘s Sydney office is using it as well (but I couldn’t confirm, so if you’re reading this, give me a shout!).

 

MEAT can be found at:

bitbucket.org/aahmed/meat

 

Or installed with an:

npm install -g meat

 

If it looks like it’d be useful at your office, please do give it a try!