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Photo: Mmhmm

Mmhmm, the video startup from former Evernote CEO Phil Libin, is ready for prime time. The service is launching publicly today after a private beta involving tens of thousands of testers.

Why it matters: The difficult-to-pronounce startup is one of a number of efforts designed to make video conferencing more interesting than it is today.

How it works: Mmhmm provides a variety of tools that can be used in prerecorded or live video, allowing presenters to put up graphics, a la Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update, among other tricks.The project began as something of a joke, Libin said, but got really serious amid the pandemic as workers started spending more and more time on Zoom and other conferencing services.

  • "There’s going to be a lot of technology that tries to make the situation not quite as bad," Libin said. While some people are born performers, Libin said, not everyone has those skills, leading to a lot of very dreary meetings over video. "We're trying to reinsert some of the charisma, some of the personality into our video lives."
  • Early users include founders seeking to raise money, teachers looking to engage remote students and even churches and synagogues looking to add flair to online worship.
  • Libin has raised more than $35 million for Mmhmm, including $5 million for his startup studio All Turtles, where the video service was incubated.

Between the lines: The goal is to augment, rather than replace, the current generation of video conferencing. But Libin says if he is successful, he would like to replace the endless slides that were the bane of pre-COVID meetings."We want to finally murder PowerPoint," he said.Libin said a lot of the ideas for Mmhmm came from his thinking on how the world will evolve once augmented-reality glasses go mainstream. It occurred to him, he said, that some of the same approaches that could work in our AR future are possible today using a traditional PC and monitor.The big picture: Hybrid and fully remote work will remain significant even after pandemic fears subside, Libin said, creating a trillion-dollar opportunity for tools that enable such work.

  • Mmhmm isn't alone in targeting video conferencing as ripe for improvement. In addition to well-known players like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Cisco's WebEx, startups are trying to find novel approaches or niche markets to corner.
  • The big players, meanwhile, are also trying to offer specialized versions for different industries. Cisco, for example, has a custom version of WebEx designed for governments, while others are targeting health care and other markets with specialized regulations and needs.

Go deeper

Biden extends mask mandates for travelers into 2022

President Biden delivers remarks at the White House on Dec. 1. Photo: Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

President Biden will announce new testing protocols for international travelers on Thursday and extend masking requirements through March as the U.S. prepares to fight the Omicron variant this winter, according to senior administration officials.

Driving the news: The U.S. will tighten pre-departure testing protocols starting early next week by requiring all inbound international travelers to take COVID-19 tests within one day of their departure rather than three.

53 mins ago - Health

America probably won't lead the effort to understand Omicron

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The race to figure out just how dangerous the Omicron variant is will likely be a global effort, but some experts are skeptical that the U.S. will play a dominant role.

Why it matters: The CDC has repeatedly come under fire for inadequate data collection throughout the pandemic — and figuring out how to respond to Omicron requires a lot of data that doesn't currently exist.

U.S. faces urgent anti-hacker crisis

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The Biden administration is accelerating efforts to fill nearly 600,000 vacant cybersecurity positions in the public and private sectors bogging down efforts to protect digital infrastructure.

Why it matters: Following a deluge of ransomware attacks targeting critical government and corporate infrastructure this year, clogs in the talent pipeline are leaving federal, cash-strapped local governments and Big Business even more susceptible to hacking.