The ongoing pandemic has confined billions of people around the world to their homes. In many countries, children can’t go to school, can’t visit their relatives, and their parents – not all of them, mind you – are also working remotely, from their homes. The first wave of the pandemic seems to have passed in some countries, things are beginning to slowly and tentatively return to normal, even the NFL draft is back on schedule, showing the world that life doesn’t stop.
But the pandemic is not yet over, and experts say we can expect at least one big wave of the virus to sweep through the world in the coming months, maybe as soon as this fall. Besides, companies are considering making remote work an option for an ever-increasing number of employees ever after the strict social distancing measures imposed by governments are lifted.
With the situation being far from normal, video conferencing is a business with a continuously growing user base – and value. No wonder there are many companies trying to secure their slice of the pie. The two latest players to improve their video conferencing games are Google and Facebook, with their dedicated products aiming to consolidate their position on a market currently dominated by Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
Google Meet: Free for everyone
Until recently, Google had two separate video calling solutions: Google Duo, available to anyone with a free Google account, and Meet, a service included with its G Suite toolkit meant for businesses. On April 29, though, Google announced that it would make Google Meet, its premium video conferencing product, free for everyone, with access to the service rolling out around the world as we speak.
Google Meet stands out of the crowd of similar services with a strong set of host controls, the exclusion of anonymous users from group calls, in-transit and at-rest encryption of Meet video meetings and recordings, and the promise not to use Meet data for advertising.
The free version of Google Meet comes with limitations, of course, the meetings can last for as long as 60 minutes only – although Google will not enforce this limit until September 30 – and have 100 participants only, and doesn’t allow recordings of the meetings. It comes with an interesting feature, though: it can caption conversations in real-time (this feature only works in English right now).
Messenger Rooms: Group video calling goes social
Where Meet meets (sic!) the needs of professional users with its free video conferencing product, Facebook has chosen to approach the idea from the other side. With Messenger Rooms, Facebook users can gather up to 50 people in a chat room to have a good time together while staying apart.
The Room created by the user has some hefty privacy and security features, like controlling who sees a room, locking or unlocking it, and blocking certain users from joining it.
Users can invite others by simply sending them a link or even posting it in a group or their timeline on Facebook. Those invited can join the fun even without having a Facebook account. The service comes with some fun features like mood lights, themes, virtual backgrounds, and camera filters, and has no time limits in place.
Messenger Rooms is currently available on Facebook and Messenger but it will be rolled out soon to WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook’s Portal smart displays, too.