What should I consider when investigating the best video chat tools for me?
Are you still using just one tool to conduct all of your online video communication? How’s that working out? Forcing a video conferencing tool to make a quick call is like driving a tractor-trailer to the corner to get your mail; It’ll eventually do the job, but it’s painful and a bicycle would likely be better.
Many people are discovering the difference between video conferencing (groups of more than three) and video calling (generally one-to-one calls) and are finding that a service that’s good for one, isn’t the best suited for the other. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, not only are we conducting more online video meetings but the nature of how we sell our products, support our customers, and deliver our services is changing to remote online delivery. As such, efficient individuals and organizations are leveraging different video communication tools tailored to particular functions.
But where to start? As a result of the pandemic the number of options for hosting meetings and telecommuting has exploded. Some video conferencing tools focus on specific niches while others bill themselves as alternatives to existing, larger players; we all know their names. Recently, several new entrants in the video communication space are using WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication), which provides real-time communications capabilities in web browsers, to carve out new niches. Google was initially the main driver behind open-sourcing the WebRTC standard but it is now broadly supported by the likes of Apple’s Safari, Microsoft’s Edge, Mozilla’s Firefox, Google’s Chrome and others.
Traditional communication for video conferencing involves all parties accessing a call via a shared link. However, in order to access the link one must typically download an application, schedule a call on the service and then share the link or call information with other participants. Some services do this better than others but regardless it’s a tedious process especially if it’s a short call or a one-to-four-person call. Callers typically have preferences for their own favorite service and may only use a service to which they’ve been invited, just once. In such cases, that’s a lot of energy expended for a one-off call.
Picking the best from among many video conferencing options naturally depends on your individual needs for that specific meeting. However, there are some common things worth considering as you trial different products.
Some key questions to ask yourself as you evaluate which services will suit your varied needs might be:
1) How long has the service been around?
This question leads by extension to other questions that are equally important. Are they trying to capitalize on a trend or are they committed for the long haul? If they’ve just launched, will they be around to support the product and you? In other words, are they worth your investment in time in learning their service?
2) Does the service have the right features and benefits for me?
There are services such as Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams that can conference together hundreds or even thousands of people. Is that typically what you’ll be doing or is 2-4 people more usual for you? Choose the solution that will work in 90% of your cases and make it your primary. There are always workarounds for the other 10% and you’ll eventually find a favorite service for that as well.
3) Will you be using the service to collaborate with others?
If so, then you’ll likely want a service that allows you to share screens and files. This makes it much easier to gather support for your ideas, work on something together or make a point more effectively. Does your service let more than one person share their screen at a time? If you’ve used such a service, you’ll quickly become addicted to how quickly you can edit a document while your colleague simultaneously searches the web for you.
4) What platforms do you need supported?
For example, many recent launches on Product Hunt and other such sites are mobile only or iOS/Android only. That could be fine for personal applications, but it won’t work for business calls. Ideally, the service should support desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile (both Apple iOS and Google Android) in order to make it easy for anyone to join your calls.
5) How important is security?
Security is one of those things that theoretically everyone claims, but as soon as they’re scrutinized the truth comes out. Recently, misleading claims have been well publicised for some leading players. However, in some arenas such as financial services, healthcare or government it is often mandated. Does your tool meet the stringent requirements?
6) How important is privacy?
Related to security, but different is privacy. Ditto the first line above. In an era in which the mandate of many companies is to get the most information on you as possible, to later sell or use to sell you goods or services, this may be an important consideration for you. Do you know what information your provider is collecting and who is given access to it? Are they selling you ads, requiring them to collect even more data on you? Or are they straight up selling your data? Are foreign governments investors in the video conferencing app that you’re using and invariably listening in on your private conversations?
As the video conferencing and video meeting space expands and new entrants offer services tailored to specific niches, the questions above can serve as a guide and ensure that you make the best choice for your needs.
Happy video conferencing!