Turning social distancing into distance socialising with video chat!
The rapid introduction of social distancing has taken most of us by surprise, making video calls a new necessity for distant socialising. Many of us have also resisted using video chat platforms because in the past they've been poor quality, time consuming and generally the technology caused way more frustration than the effort was worth. Fortunately the technology has come a long very quickly - but there are more than two-dozen apps out there to pick from making choice difficult.
Here are my recommendations for options based on what people are most likely to currently be using. Here are some recommendations for individuals and small businesses that now need to work remotely and/or maintain regular and ongoing rapport with clients and colleagues.
Each app suggested is free.
Each app is cross-platform. This means there's and Apple and Android version.
All of them can be accessed on desktop, although some features may not be available that you can access on your device.
Pros: Secure, popular
Cons: Only four people per video call
BEST ON: Mobile
GOOD FOR: BUSINESS, FAMILY
Think of WhatsApp as FB Messenger’s nerdier, less-good-looking sibling. With a focus on privacy, WhatsApp is popular around the world despite being super ugly, and while video calls aren’t its main feature, they are possible if you don’t mind a four-person limit. To activate it, start a group chat and then hit the call button at the top right and select the participants, then hit the camera. You can access Whatsapp on your desktop (Whatsapp Web) here:
2. FB MESSENGER
Pros: Easy to use, many people already on it, some handy group features
Cons: Facebook account required
BEST ON: Mobile device or desktop
GOOD FOR: FRIENDS, FAMILY
Messenger is a popular app for good reason — it works well for pretty much every kind of digital communication you might want to do with your friends. It supports up to eight people in free video calls with no duration limit, and when you are doing a two-person call it switches to a peer-to-peer structure, skipping servers and potentially avoiding congestion. Of course, it’s also a Facebook product, meaning you’ll need an account there — not something everyone is into. But Messenger use is considerably better protected from Facebook snooping than posts and images on the main site. I wouldn't recommend downloading the desktop app as it's fairly rubbish - just open Facebook in your browser.
Pros: Many simultaneous callers, strong admin controls
Cons: Sketchy background data policies, 40-minute limit
BEST ON: Desktop
GOOD FOR: LARGE GROUPS, BUSINESS
Zoom is one of the most popular business video conference apps out there due to its reliability, solid web integration and other features. It’s not really made for personal calls — there are way more bells and whistles than you need — but its free plan works just fine for them. Unfortunately, there’s a 40-minute limit for group calls, which you’ll hit faster than you think, and everyone will have to hang up and start again. Zoom has also been criticised for its considerable behind-the-scenes data collection. If you really want to just chill with your friends, there are better options. You can download Zoom for desktop here:
*update - meetings can now run for up to 2 hours*
Pros: Many simultaneous callers
Cons: Tries too hard to do other things
BEST ON: Desktop web browser
GOOD FOR: LARGE GROUPS, BUSINESS, FAMILY
If the thought of running your parents through the online setup of any form of technology is something you'd ordinarily go out of your way to avoid, Skype might be the best option as they're more likely to have previously used this compared with the other apps mentioned (and getting a parent to sign up for something is usually half the struggle).
Skype has been around for a long time, and while its desktop app is pretty weak, the mobile version is solid and it supports big groups with no real time limit (four hours per call, 100 hours per month), for free. As long as you focus on just the video calls, it’s great, but Skype’s emoji reactions, status updates and other cruft are best avoided. To access Skype Web (from your desktop) here. If you must, access the rather average desktop app here:
Pros: Simple drop-in, drop-out group chat, built-in games
Cons: Basically a trojan horse for Heads Up
Best on: Mobile
GOOD FOR: FRIENDS
Houseparty established its brand as the app teens were using to chat with groups of friends without leaving the house. Pundits disapproved, but as usual, the kids get the last laugh. Houseparty is nice for a group of close friends, alerting you when someone’s available and letting people easily join in the chat with minimal fuss. The built in games are also fun, but you’ll have to pony up for Heads Up decks. The Pictionary clone is fun, but desperately needs more words. There is currently a rumour circulating online about hacking Houseparty, however this has not been verified. Access the Houseparty chrome extension here: