Back in March, most of the non-essential workers in the world started to work from home, and schools were shut down as students of all ages transitioned to remote learning.
This created a huge increase in users of Zoom, a video conferencing app that was previously used by about 10 million daily users. In March alone, Zoom’s daily users ballooned to more than 200 million users. Since then, the company has had to make a number of adjustments to support this massive increase in usage, as well as address security issues that came to light.
I am a long time user and fan of Zoom. So, I thought it might be helpful to share my thoughts on why I dig Zoom, some tips that might be helpful for newer users, and my two cents on the flak Zoom has taken recently in the press.
Because we work with so many different clients at Rocket, we also have to accommodate all kinds of video conferencing tools. Just because we like Zoom doesn’t mean all of our clients do, so we try to be flexible.
But, we’ve found other tools to have some issues, whether it’s the lack of quality and consistency in Google Hangouts, lack of audio quality in Slack or the clunkiness of GoToMeeting. Zoom is the best mostly because all of the technology and features have been built by their internal engineering team. It’s a homegrown solution. It’s not an app that was cobbled together through an acquisition, or a larger platform that added video conferencing as an afterthought or low priority feature.
I’m also a big time audio snob, and I think Zoom leads in this category. Getting audio right with video conferencing is the most difficult aspect, but I’d argue it’s the most important. There is nothing worse than crappy audio on a video call (like this Adam Sandler performance). While I think Zoom handles this well with echo cancellation, I still recommend that people use airpods or anything with an inline mic, which is most definitely better than the mic in your laptop.
Lastly, I really like the Zoom integrations that are available. At Rocket, we use both the Slack integration and Zoom for Google Suite add-on, which makes it easy for our team to schedule Zoom meetings within their existing calendar or workflow. We also use Zoom’s Virtual Room Connector product in our conference rooms at our offices, which actually have WebEx hardware installed on them but we’re able to connect it to our Zoom accounts.
Now for those tips I promised
If you haven’t gone through all of the available settings in Zoom, I recommend you spend some time there. The settings features are the best way to make Zoom work the way you need it to.
For example, you can:
- Enable HD so everyone can see your pretty face in all its glory.
- Turn off your video when you first join a meeting, just in case you’re not ready for primetime just yet.
- Display up to 49 participants in Gallery View versus only being able to see the person who is currently speaking.
- Enable keyboard shortcuts like push to talk, which is great if you’re on mobile.
- You can turn on/off original sound. Zoom does audio processing of most microphones to cut out background noise, but if you have your own microphone or want that noise to come through for some reason, you can turn that setting on to always use original sound.
- Set it so others can join the call before the host. This allows people to join and chat before the host so they aren’t just sitting around watching a spinning screen until the host dials in.
- Enable a virtual background. This is a fun feature especially if there is something messy behind you. If there is too much motion going on behind you, it will destroy the virtual background. But if you have a solid setting behind you, it’s a really nice feature. You can do video backgrounds too. Zoom really missed the boat on marketing this. It’s a great feature that some people have put to creative use.
- Most importantly (according to some of my colleagues) in Settings/Video, you can click “touch up my appearance” if you want to make sure you look even nicer on camera by applying a subtle softening effect.
- You can set screen sharing so that if someone is sharing, someone else can take over and start sharing. This avoids that whole “can you stop sharing so I can share?” conversation that can kill time in a meeting.
- If you’re using Zoom for any kind of audio or video production (podcasts, The Tonight Show, etc.) then you’ll be very interested in a handy feature in the recording menu. You can record a separate audio file for each participant. These are mp3s and not .wav files, but having separate audio tracks is a must for people in this line of work.
Basic versus pro accounts
If you are new to Zoom, the Basic account is a good option. It’s free, for one. You can hold meetings with up to 100 participants and have unlimited 1:1 meeting access. The big restriction is that you have a 40 minute limit on any group meetings. So if you need to consistently run longer meetings, this may not be your best option.
The Pro account costs $14.99 per month and comes with all of the features of the Basic accounts (minus the 40 min time limit), as well as added features like reporting, admin controls and a custom Personal Meeting ID (PMI). If, like us, you’ll be using conference room hardware to frequently dial into meetings, the PMI will be a huge timesaver. I recommend that Pro account users set their custom personal ID to a 10-digit number that is familiar to them (like a cell phone number) so that it’s easy to remember. If you’ve ever been assigned a conference line at a company, you’re already aware of how helpful a familiar conference ID can be.
And lastly, my two cents about security concerns
Zoom has been getting hammered by the press in recent weeks over potential security concerns with the platform.
While some of this is fair (and has been addressed head on by Zoom), it’s important to consider the rapid growth in users the company has experienced over the last two months. Even with all of this crazy growth, there have been almost zero outages with the platform. Universities and schools across the country have been using Zoom without issue. It’s a pretty impressive feat for their engineering team and should not be overlooked: preparing and handling scale like that is difficult.
That said, there have been issues, first starting with “zoom bombing.” Since meeting IDs are a ten digit number, it’s not impossible to hack your way into a Zoom call by just trying various number combinations. And it’s even easier to be zoom bombed when your account is set to let people join without a host or share their screen at will. Unfortunately, I think Zoom bombing is more of an issue with a user’s settings versus something Zoom has done wrong. If you’re worried about being bombed, you can make it so only people that you want to join can join, not just any random person. Zoom has also released new in-app security features for the meeting host so that you can kick people out, banish them to the waiting room, prevent sharing, etc.
In response to a post from a hacker that exposed a flaw in Zoom’s Windows client, Zoom fixed the feature within one day and started a bug bounty program to incentivize white hat hackers to report these issues so they can be immediately addressed in an ethical way. Zoom also had a feature dubbed “attention tracking” that was creepy enough to stain their reputation, so they removed that feature entirely.
Going forward, Zoom has made it clear that their primary focus is on trust/safety/privacy issues with the platform. They will be releasing some new features (mostly for educational institutions), but they know this is their moment to shine and are laser focused on making sure users trust their platform and have a good experience. And I personally think they will do it. “Let’s just Zoom” became a phrase so quickly we barely noticed, and any time a company name becomes a verb, it means it’s here to stay.