Opinion: Need for multiple video platforms becoming apparent

Like most of you, I’ve been doing more than my fair share of video calls lately and feel relatively certain that the practice will continue for some time to come—even when life beyond the COVID-19 pandemic starts to return to normal. As we’ve all learned from the experience, in the proper amount and for the proper length, they can be a very effective form of communication. Plus, as many have discussed and promised for years, they do give us the flexibility to work from many different locations and, for certain types of events, can reduce the time, costs, and hassles of travel.
That’s not to say, however, that they are a cure all. As we’ve also all learned, there are definitely limitations to what can be achieved via video calls and sometimes things just get, well, awkward.

For people who don’t work at large organizations that have standardized on a single videoconferencing platform, another challenge is the need to work with, install, and learn multiple different apps. As someone who talks to lots of different companies, I can safely say that I’m pretty sure I’ve used virtually every major videoconferencing option that’s out there over the last few weeks: Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, Google Hangouts/Meet, Skype, GoToMeeting, Blue Jeans, and of course, Zoom.

Initially, I admit to being frustrated by the lack of standards across the different tools and have wondered if it wouldn’t make more sense to just have a single platform, or at least a primary one that could serve as the default. As time has gone on, however, I realize that my initial thinking was lacking a certain amount of insight. As unintuitive as it may first sound, there actually is a great deal of sense to having multiple videoconferencing apps and platforms.

To be clear, there’s definitely work that could be done to enable and/or improve the interoperability across some of these platforms–even if it’s nothing more than allowing the creation of a high-level log-in tool that could manage underlying audio and video connections to the various platforms. However, just as choice and competition in other categories ends up creating better products for everyone, the same is true with videoconferencing tools—for many different reasons.

First, as we’ve certainly started to see and learn from much of the Zoom fallout that’s started to occur, things can get ugly if too many people start to over-rely on a single platform. Not only is there the potential for reliability concerns—even on a cloud-based platform—but a platform that gets too much attention is bound to become a tempting target for hackers and other troublemakers. Stories of “Zoombombing” and other related intrusions have grown so commonplace that the FBI is even starting to investigate. Plus, nearly every day, it seems, there’s news of yet another large organization moving away from or forbidding the use of Zoom.

To the company’s credit, much of the attention and the continuing strong usage of Zoom is because they took the often awkward, painful, and unreliable process of connecting multiple people from multiple locations into a functioning video call and made it easy. For many people and some organizations, that was good enough, and thankfully, we’re starting to see other videoconferencing platforms improve these critical basics as a competitive response. That’s a win for everyone.

However, it’s also become increasingly clear that Zoom wasn’t nearly as focused on security and privacy as many people and organizations thought they were and as they should have been. From questions about encryption, to publicly accessible recordings of private calls, the routing of US calls through Chinese servers, and much more, Zoom is facing a reckoning on some of the choices they’ve made.

Other videoconferencing platforms, including Webex and GotoMeeting have been focused on privacy and security for some time—unfortunately, sometimes at the expense of ease-of-use—but it’s clear that many organizations are starting to look at other alternatives that are a better match for their security needs. Microsoft, to its credit, has made security an essential part of its relatively new Teams platform.

But even beyond the obvious critical security needs, it’s clear, in using the various videoconferencing tools, that some are better suited for different types of meetings than others. The mechanisms for sharing and annotating files, for example, take different forms among different tools. In addition, some tools have better capabilities for working within the structure of a defined multi-part meeting, such as a virtual event.

The bottom line is, it’s very difficult to find a single tool that can work for all types of meetings, all types of leaders, or even all types of company cultures. Meetings can vary tremendously across companies or even across groups within companies, so it isn’t realistic to think that a single platform is going to meet everyone’s virtual meeting needs. Choice and focus continue to be important and will likely lead many organizations to adopting several different videoconferencing tools for different meeting needs.

And let’s not forget, we won’t be doing this many video meetings forever. While there’s little doubt that we’ll all be doing more video meetings post-pandemic than we were doing pre-pandemic, the overall number of video meetings will go down from current levels for most people. In fact, once things get back to normal, I think people are actually going to look forward to face-to-face meetings—despite the frustrations they often create. We’ll all just be a lot more sensitive to what types of things work in video meetings and what’s better live. That’s an improvement I think we can all look forward to.