Here we are, it’s 2022. And while we may have had hopes of being rid of it, the truth is that teleconferencing is still “a thing.” It’s still here with us and it’s possible it always will be. But, the landscape has changed a bit since we all learned about the Zoom app for the first time. And so, it’s time to revisit this article I wrote way back when, to see if my predictions really panned out.
A little prehistory
Zoom wasn’t really the first app to do this sort of thing. There was Skype and Facetime, although both of them really evolved as one-on-one systems, not one-on-many. Until very recently, being able to have a screen full of different people who could all talk and interact would have taken more computing power and bandwidth than we had.
Cisco’s Webex was one of the first apps to create a multi-person teleconferencing experience with screen sharing. In its early days, though, it was limited and hard to use. So much so that then-Cisco employee Eric Yuan left the company in order to develop something better. That something better turned into Zoom, which most of us didn’t care about… until we had to.
The video meeting wars commence
Zoom was a small upstart, barely known outside a few groups. In the spring of 2020 it became the most important app in the world, and we all know why. It was free to everyone as long as you kept to a 40-minute meeting and it worked. It worked surprisingly well. No, it wasn’t perfect. But at the time the world needed an app like this, it delivered.
The tech giants of the world were initially slow to respond. Microsoft and Google both had videoconference apps, but they were fairly weak compared to Zoom. More importantly, both Microsoft Teams and Google Meet were limited to enterprise customers. That means the regular workers of the world, suddenly thrust into remote work for the first time, didn’t have access to those apps.
Even when Microsoft and Google expanded the number of people who could use their stuff, it still didn’t work so well compared to Zoom. And so, throughout 2020 and into 2021, Zoom still reigned.
The tide has turned, and here’s why
Yes, Teams and Meet have gotten better. Both have begun to steal Zoom’s best features, with a lot of success. Meet allows more people on the screen, and Teams lets you personally pin a person without doing it for everyone. Neither has really found the right mix of moderation tools that Zoom has, but they’re getting closer.
That’s not why Teams and Meet are winning, though. They’re winning because they’re good enough, and more importantly they’re easy. Microsoft has literally carpet bombed its apps with Teams integration. If you have Microsoft 365 (the apps that used to be called “Microsoft Office”) there’s Teams buttons all over them. Every Outlook meeting can be a Teams meeting with one click. You can present your PowerPoint deck — along with a little keyed-in version of your camera — with one button click. Teams is everywhere. And, if you have Windows 11, it’s even more pervasive.
Google Meet has the same kind of integration for customers who use Google’s enterprise apps, although perhaps not to the same degree. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are moving in that direction.
The bottom line is that it’s become so easy to have your meeting over Teams or Meet that people just don’t use Zoom as much. I don’t know about you, but when I do have to use Zoom specifically, it feels like a throwback, and not in a good way. Zoom has a very specific flavor to me that reminds me of toilet paper shortages and wiping your groceries down with bleach. In other words, it feels like a past that I don’t want to relive.
A clear winner?
I’m not sure there will be a clear winner for everyone, but there is one way to look at it: chances are you’re going to use the app made by the people who make your word processor. If that’s Microsoft, you’ll use Teams. If that’s Google, you’ll use Meet. Yes, there are Linux users in the world and Mac users and folks who don’t use software from either of the two large companies. But they’re not as common, of course.
I just hope that both Microsoft and Google keep innovating. Their apps are far from perfect, and it seems like we will still need them for a while to come.