Desperate times call for desperate measures, the saying goes. Our times are pretty desperate due to the ongoing pandemic that has confined billions of people to their homes. While there are many who don’t find it hard at all, many of us find it hard to spend so much time away from their friends and families. To respond to a surging need, many companies are now offering alternatives to face-to-face encounters relying on group video calls.
Choosing the right one can, in turn, be a tough one. Emerging social network Houseparty was hit by hacking allegations and Zoom, a beloved video conferencing app, has also been the subject of scrutiny due to concerns about its respect for its users’ privacy. But there are many other services that are improving their game as we speak, offering their users a better, safer way to spend time together while being apart.
Google’s Meet is now available to anyone
Google Meet was for a long time a service exclusive to G Suite, the company’s business-facing service. G Suite offers its users business email, calendar, and office integration together with collaborative options and its group video calling service exclusive to the suite. Now, everyone can use Meet freely – the service has become available through the Gmail web interface and on Android smartphones, through the free app available in the Play Store.
With Meet, users can participate in encrypted group video calls with up to 100 participants, even offering features like the company’s signature automatic close captioning of the conversations.
Adding Meet to free Google services was just a first step in the company’s benefits offered to users during these trying times. Google recently announced that it will soon offer its enterprise video conferencing solution – the one capable of handling meetings with up to 250 participants and the ability to record meetings – for free to all paid G Suite and G Suite for Education users.
Messenger Rooms headed to WhatsApp
Messenger Rooms is a service Facebook has recently rolled out to take on rivals like Zoom. While the size of the rooms themselves is limited to 50 participants (the limit is 100 in many other cases) the fact that the service is integrated with Facebook’s Messenger service makes it accessible to a massive number of users. Plus, considering its familiar interface, it will likely be a hit.
Unlike its other features that were rolled out gradually, one country at a time, Messenger Rooms saw an almost simultaneous rollout around the world – initially, it was launched in the US and Canada, followed by the rest of the countries as we speak.
Rooms comes with features aimed at home users rather than a corporate environment, including augmented reality features, 360-degree backgrounds, and reporting, and blocking contacts respectively if they don’t behave according to the room owner’s rules. Because the room’s creator controls everything, from who can join and who cannot or whether the room will be public or private.
In a recent move, Facebook has seemingly decided to integrate Messenger Rooms with its insanely popular WhatsApp Messenger service. While it’s not yet official, the Rooms shortcut has already shown up in the latest WhatsApp Messenger Beta Android app, limited to some countries for now. This means that a wide-scale roll-out is likely around the corner. The feature is expected to launch soon through the service’s web-based interface, as well as its iOS app, too.
Zoom is all the rage
Zoom is considered the big winner of the current situation. With a never-before-seen number of employees working from home and an even larger number of children and students learning remotely, Zoom now has a user base it has never seen before. Its user base was not the only thing that exploded, though.
The app can be used to host anything from virtual classrooms to online pub crawls, where every participant stays at home with their preferred (often alcoholic) drink at hand, just like they were sitting around a table at a pub. And, of course, it can be used in a corporate environment for online meetings and remote work – for this, in turn, companies need to buy a license.
Zoom’s share price has soared from under $70 to over $150 in just a few days, turning founder and CEO Eric Yuan into one of the richest people in the world.
Microsoft quietly grows
Finally, let’s not forget about the company that offers its customers one of the most complete remote working and communication solutions to date: Microsoft Teams. The Redmond Giant initially contemplated buying Slack back in 2016 – Bill Gates has, in turn, decided to pursue another direction and build Teams instead. The decision has proven to be a good one in time, with Slack losing a lot of market value after being listed on the New York Stock Exchange and Teams proving to be a veritable “Slack killer”.
Microsoft reported that its cloud-backed collaboration toolkit had 20 million active users last November – and during the first few months of this year, its user base has more than tripled. Microsoft has seen more than 200 million daily meeting participants. And the number of its users might continue to grow, considering that it bundles Teams together with all paid Office 365 accounts.
These trying times have put many of us in a sensitive situation. In many countries, children have to learn remotely because schools have been closed for public health concerns. Whoever could work from home is now doing so, thus reducing the possible spread of the virus further. And families around the world are locked in their homes, away from their friends and families. In these trying times, the tools above are just the thing we need.
The ongoing pandemic is expected to fundamentally change the world around us – especially if it sticks around like some experts predict it will. A large number of workers who were forced to work from home during the pandemic will likely choose to do the same once it ends. This means that companies will have to rethink their relationship with remote work, relying more on the tools above. Except for Messenger Rooms, of course – that one will, at least for the time being, be reserved for having a good time with friends online.