When I was tapped on the shoulder to find the best video conferencing system for MB4 Productions about 5 years ago, the usual process ensued. There were pro/con lists, free trials and discussions with a dozens sales representatives who were more than happy to talk with me about an account. I was familiar with most platforms, and I already knew that most were lacking what I was looking for: a clean interface, great features, reliability and outstanding customer service. Webex, GoToMeeting and Adobe Connect each had their strengths, but none of them met the criteria. So I dug a little deeper. I talked at length with Blue Jeans and Zoom. Both impressed me, but Zoom was the clear winner. Back then, when Zoom wasn’t well known, they still knew how to fill those frustrating gaps. It all seems so simple now, and makes me wonder why they all couldn’t be that way!
One reason that Zoom fixed exactly what was so frustrating about every other platform was their founder Eric Yuan. Since his teen years, Eric wanted to bring easy video-conferencing to the world. Back then, he desired a simple way to see his girlfriend that lived a 10 hour train ride away. How could you not appreciate that origin story? Eric moved to the United States and started working for Webex, which was acquired by Cisco. I personally like to think that he always had a great idea for video conferencing, but under the limitations of a large company, they simply couldn’t come to light. So he took his idea elsewhere by starting a new company where his ingenuity could flourish. I may not be correct with this thought, but it would certainly make sense to most if they were to spend 15 minutes on Webex followed by the relief of 15 minutes on Zoom.
The ease of using Zoom has always been accompanied by great features such as screen share with computer audio share and changing your background. These have been available for years on Zoom. Other platforms are still catching up to support just these two features. So far, Microsoft Teams has been the only other one I’ve successfully been able to do both on, and it is semi-reliable at best. This is likely because Teams is drowning in updates and betas every other week in order to catch up and service the growing need from large scale companies that are understandably committed to their Microsoft ecosystems. I’m rooting for Teams (no pun intended), but they are drowning right now.
When Covid-19 forced many to work from home, school online, and avoid visits with family members, it was the time to shine for internet services. Suddenly everyone young and old was getting a crash course in video conference applications. I’m even aware of people who used this opportunity to buy stock in Zoom, which went public in April 2019. At that time, a share was $62. As of writing this, that number has peaked in October 2020 at $559. Not too bad for those who might have invested before Covid-19 roamed the earth. However, just as those stock market lines can seem like a roller coaster, Zoom experienced their own public relations roller coaster early on in the shutdown, and over a critical matter – security.
Early on in this pandemic, there were reports of strangers entering Zoom gatherings and proceeding to share their screen. This effectively spammed classrooms with inappropriate content, which led to a belief that Zoom was insecure. Just that snafu presumably led several large scale users to swear it off as an option. Of course, these inappropriate interruptions seemed to originate in classrooms where someone would tweet a meeting link with no password established. In all reality, this could happen on any platform if a host is not responsibly utilizing security features. Still, Zoom did the right thing and addressed these issues by beefing up their security further. You can set a password to join, disable screen share for all but the host, enable a waiting room to filter who enters and even lock the meeting. These features are more than enough to keep unwanted visitors out. Beyond this, end to end encryption is also available with a two-step verification process.
I can happily add that my doctor uses Zoom for tele-health appointments, via a corporate health clinic account. I would reason that if Zoom is good enough for HIPAA compliancy, it will likely be good enough for most professional functions. However, I can also attest that the large firm I currently work for has still sworn it off entirely because of those early incidents. And while I don’t think I’ll change their minds with this blog or my single opinion, I will continue to ‘throw it out there’ as an option, because I love this platform!
Zoom went above and beyond this last year. They dropped the price for those with .edu email accounts, they removed the meeting time limit over the holidays for families to see each other as long as they wanted, and they did all of this with regular updates from Eric Yuan. This is a company and application that allows people to see a friendly face with ease during this wild time. Even though they have no doubt profited massively, I believe they still value their original calling with poise. And that is what has already made the term “video conference” synonymous with the word “Zoom.” I mean, just the other day, a colleague asked me to “setup a Zoom” even though we exclusively use Teams in our office. I didn’t need to ask what she meant, I just knew!
Featured image attribution: vecteezy.com