LOS ANGELES — Zoom, Zoom, Zoom! The video chat software Zoom was started nearly a decade ago, but in the past few weeks, it has become the go-to app to keep us connected while we stay at home.
It seems as though everyone is using it.
“The crazy thing to me is how it’s become a social network,” said Mahmoud Hafez, co-founder at DocuVision.ai, over, well, Zoom.
“We were using Zoom for just strictly sales calls, but now we’re using it for everything,” explained Hafez.
Downloads of the app have skyrocketed since coronavirus concerns started keeping folks at home. Zoom now sits at the top of the charts on the App Store.
Hafez believes part of the appeal of the software is its simplicity.
“Literally, just send one link, they click it and we’re video calling in seconds,” Hafez said.
Zoom software works on desktops, web browsers and smartphones, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re on a Mac or PC, iPhone or Android.
The free plan has a 40-minute limit on meetings. and you can have up to 100 people on the same screen. Zoom is temporarily lifting that time limit for schools affected by coronavirus closures who fill out a special request form.
“It’s nice to see all the faces and then get a pulse on what everyone is thinking and reacting to the content. And, are they engaged. Are they not engaged,” said Reese Hammerstrom, an e-commerce manager at the smartphone case and accessory company Nomad.
Once you sign up, you can either start a video call yourself or join someone else’s call. Everyone on Zoom has a Personal Meeting ID, or PMI. It looks like a phone number. You can find yours on your Zoom home page by tapping the arrow next to New Meeting. If someone has this number they can contact you at any time on Zoom.
When you set up a meeting, you have two choices: use your Personal Meeting ID or just start a video call with a one-time random ID by clicking the giant “New Meeting” button. You should probably reserve meetings with your PMI for your closest colleagues and friends. Otherwise, use a one-time meeting ID. You can find the meeting ID at the top of every active video call.
To invite folks in, just hit Invite at the bottom of the screen and copy the URL or Invitation. Then, send to folks however you like: email, text and more.
Want to see everyone on one screen? Use Gallery View. Want just the speaker to be most prominent on screen? Use the Speaker View. You can toggle between them while on a call.
If you’re in a large group, it’s best to mute yourself. If you quickly need to say something, just hold down the space bar, like a walkie talkie. It will temporarily turn on your microphone.
HD is off on Zoom by default to conserve bandwidth. If you want the highest video conference quality, you can toggle it on in Settings > Video >My Video > Enable HD. While you’re there, check out a popular option called “Touch up my appearance.” Switch it on and it will smooth out your skin.
One feature that has been played with most in Zoom is the ability to virtually change your background. To find it, go into Settings > Virtual Background. Here, you can choose from several supplied images and videos like the Golden Gate bridge, space or waves lapping on a beach.
You can upload your own by pressing the “plus” sign above the images. This is where people are getting creative. Upload an amazing scenic photo you’ve taken or turn to Google for a little inspiration. Try doing a Google search for your favorite team, place or store along with “zoom background.”
The one thing you don’t want to happen in your Zoom call is an interruption. You probably can’t avoid embarrassing situations like your kid, pet or significant other walking into view, but you can stop Zoombombers, who join public calls and then proceed to say vile or racist things or share explicit video.
To avoid these mishaps, turn on a feature called Waiting Room. This means you will have to admit folks into your meeting. They can’t just automatically join. You can turn it on for all meetings that happen in your personal meeting room or turn it on once you start a meeting by clicking “Manage Participants” near the bottom of the screen, then “More” and choosing “Put Attendee in Waiting Room on Entry.”
You probably also want to disable the ability for other users to share their screen or desktop during your meeting. When in a meeting, tap the arrow next to “Share Screen” and hit “Advanced Sharing Options.” Here, you can specify “Who can share?” by choosing “Only Host” or “All Participants.” If it’s just friends or colleagues you trust, it’s fine to let all participants share, but if it’s a large group of random folks, it’s probably best to limit sharing to avoid any potential pitfalls.
Alternatively, if you want to share what’s on your screen, an app or a file, you can easily do this in a meeting by hitting “Share Screen.”
Finally, you can record a meeting by hitting the Record button at the bottom of the video conference. The video quality isn’t great and it might take some time for your computer to generate a file. The longer the meeting, the longer you’ll have to wait.
Zoom is simple to use and it has a lot of features under the hood for power users. Keep in mind, it was created for business, but people are using it in so many different ways: distance learning, virtual happy hours and even game nights!
The question is, will Zoom speed off into the sunset when stay-at-home orders are lifted?
“A lot of people are saying that this is like an anomaly and it’s going to fade away, but yeah, I think it’s going to be around for a while,” Hammerstrom said.