It’s the start of another weekend, and my virtual social life is a lot better than my real social life. We humans are social animals and crave interaction with others. We’re getting more and more creative in our efforts to connect with virtual happy hours, costume parties, and DnD. Even my mom got into the mix with the suggestion of a virtual dinner, something we’ve NEVER EVER done before the quarantine.
I know many people are getting accustomed to video conferencing and aren’t used to hitting the mute button, but for me, I was already doing 3 to 4 hour+ long video conferences on a daily basis. My primary DEV team is permanently remote, and many of the folks in my new company work from home.
Mark Starling invited me on his new podcast, The Nightfly Inquisition, to talk about video conferencing apps consumers and businesses can use during these times of social distancing. Listen to us laugh and talk trash while distilling some useful information for your next virtual drinking game.
Tips in text form are below.
Zoom has gained in popularity during the quarantine, and its new found exposure to the spotlight has placed it under increased scrutiny. The tool is a favorite among DnDers, small business owners, and the UK government. Unfortunately, it has suspect security and privacy controls, and for those who are craving privacy it may not be the best choice. It’s been suspected of cooperating with law enforcement, which isn’t a bad thing, but many people are vaping during their virtual happy hours. The tool is fast, easy, and cheap however, and if you don’t mind being zoom bombed with porn it’s an easy win. It’s free for 41 minutes depending on the number of users access your conference. Zoom Pro is cheap at $14.99 per month.
I actually did a watch party of Tiger King using Hangouts and Netflix Party. If you trust El Goog, you can trust this tool. Hangouts is easy to setup, invite, and join. I’ve used Hangouts professionally for video conferencing while chatting along side the video as well. And…it’s free. We played a game of virtual DnD last weekend using Google Hangouts, and the interaction between the DM and us players went smoothingly well. Our DM mounted his iPad over top of the game map so we could have a fixed reference point during the game. It’s a winner.
Duo is El Goog’s answer to Apple FaceTime. Not to be confused with the multi-factor authentication tool, Duo is also my father’s choice since he’s an Android user. Duo supports video chats up to 8 people, who could come and go dynamically. The cool thing about Duo is that it can support chatters on mobile, computer, and the web in the same conference. If the people you want to chat with aren’t in the same ecosystem, and you have 8 couples ready for happy hour, Duo is a solid choice. Otherwise, tell them to get an Apple product.
FT just works. It just, kinda works. My mom, smh bless her heart, wanted to have a virtual Sunday dinner last weekend, and since we are all Apple product users we connected with each other using FaceTime. I started our dinner using my Mac, dialed my Mom’s iPhone using her Apple ID, and connected my sister by dialing her phone from my machine. We were all able to point, laugh, and ask what we were all eating. We were eating a homemade butter chicken that was blazingly hot! Last Friday night, the BBF, the crew my wife and I roll with held a happy hour using FaceTime between 5 couples that went soothingly well. The only downside to using FaceTime is that your Android friends will have to wait in the solace of their homes and miss out on Happy Hour.
HP seems like a good idea. The app touts itself as the Face-to-Face social network. When the quarantine first started gaining momentum, House Party starting getting recognized. Some offline groups I’m in began using House Party and there were some issues with how it worked. Most of the apps here are really conferencing apps, you gain access by getting invited (unless you’re using Zoom), and then you begin communicating. Since it is a social network, the first thing it does is search your contacts and sees if your friends are in the network. Some users don’t like this degree of promiscuity, but it is opt-in. I’m not really a fan of House Party’s find me out and share my link system, but some may be.
I’m a frequenter of the service. Join.me was Studio Codeworks’ primary teleconferencing tool. We held numerous phone, video, and screen sharing telecoms. Join.me is a product by LogMeIn which was famous for it’s tele help desk products. For an inexpensive product, I can’t say enough good things about Join.me. It’s not as robust as Goto Meeting, which is the OG of video conferencing software, but it’s relatively cheap for small businesses when you need business features, like looking professional with your own telecom number and PIN, plus short URL meeting capability.
I recently used Microsoft Teams, and it’s another conferencing suite. If you’re an Office 365 customer, you’ll feel right at home with teams. I found that it is not as smooth or stable as Goto Meeting, but it is a good video conferencing tool. Teams get’s the job done. I sighed when i had to download companion software.
GotoMeeting is another LogMeIn product. Yeah, the same LogMeIn that runs Join.me. GotoMeeting is THEE business choice for video conferencing software. I’m in a GotoMeeting conference at least 4 times a day. The system is being particular tested right now with everyone working from home, at the 1:00 pm hour is particularly weird when everyone is logging back on from lunch, but GotoMeeting has very little lag, is super seamless between phone and computer audio, and you’ve hit the big time by giving your teammates personal gotomeet.me short codes. If you’re using GotoMeeting you’re also operating in CYA organizations and the screenshooting, video capture, and recording capabilities will hold your colleagues accountable when you dig those files up 2 years after your design meetings. You’re signing up for GotoMeeting when you have 150 employees at $12/month/employee. It’s cheap, but you’re paying real money. You can’t, and won’t go wrong with them.
In conclusion all of these tools have their advantages and disadvantages. If you need free, and you have a Google account Hangouts is an easy choice to make with a company you can trust. The other tools have their benefits as well, Zoom is having it’s moment in the sun, but it also issues, and the pay-for tools are great, but you’re spending money.
Regardless, before you make a choice, consider these things:
Security, you won’t get as solid of a secure connection with the consumer products, if you’re choosing a product for business, pic a business level service like Teams, GotoMeeting, or even Join.me for that.
Audio and Video, you should be able to choose between calling in using a phone number or computer/mobile audio for your chat. In some cases phone+video eases the stream and improves quality.
Muting, muting audio and video should be done with confidence. This is about control placement, knowing when and whether or not you’re mic’d up or on mute is important, especially if you have to use the bathroom. You don’t want to go viral during a quarantine.
If You Need Privacy for Intimate Communications
Let’s be real for a moment. Even if you’re communicating remotely, people want to be able to connect on an intimate level. I know this first hand, because my wife was out of the country for a month. If you really want to secure your communications, you can use a VPN like ExpressVPN that will place you on a private network and encrypt your communications. Most VPNs are available at some cost, but the costs are relatively low. ExpressVPN is one my wife and are familiar with. People use VPNs to stream BBC content by connecting to servers in foreign countries, but now you can use them to show a little skin with your loved one or sweetie.