Many commonly used and universally experienced phrases are being used to describe the newest app phenom. Regardless of the language, except for some permitted alterations due to translation, sayings like: “being in the right place at the right time”; “for those who persist long enough good things will come”; ”build something better and the world will beat a path to your door” and even ”in every dark cloud there can be a silver lining” are being used in regards to Zoom. The videoconferencing service where millions are turning to stay connected while exiled at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom (ZM) is now the most downloaded app on the Apple App Store, repeatedly breaking its download records. Zoom’s free and paid users have grown from 10 million in December 2019 to 200 million daily meeting participants in just three months. Even with millions of first-time users singing praises for Zoom the descriptor “overnight success” doesn’t apply to Zoom’s meteoric rise to fame and fortune.
Founded in 2011 by Eric Yuan, a former engineer with the WebEx video platform, Zoom initially became popular with individuals and businesses looking for a simple and reliable, user friendly vehicle for virtual meetings, classroom lessons, happy hours, costume parties, church services, brunches, book clubs and romantic dates. With the arrival of the coronavirus, the once trivialized platform is earning “savior” status among apps worldwide. So, why is Zoom reaching such lofty heights among a crowd of much more experienced competitors?
Zoom’s free version can host up 100 video participants for 40 minutes simultaneously (double that of Skype’s free model) and features a full menu of personalized user tools not available from other services. Paid versions with unlimited minutes are available for $14.99 per month, and an enterprise version for businesses runs $19.99 per month. “Zoom is seeing the biggest increase because its product is easier and more robust than others and it’s at right time when people really need it,” says Wayne Kurtzman, a teleconferencing platform market researcher with IDC. “When it comes to work, people want the same ease of collaboration they get in the office or in person — and [in many ways], Zoom delivers this.”
Any manager who has found themselves in a period of such exponential demand can relate to the challenges that accompany extreme growth. To handle the surge, Zoom is relying on its 17 global data centers, routing both audio and video traffic to these sites. From the company’s beginning it designed its systems to handle double the average daily peak usage and is capable of adding tens of thousands of additional servers within hours if necessary. “This is a very critical moment,” says CEO Yuan. “Overnight almost everybody read and understood they needed a tool like this.” Zoom now faces concerns about privacy and online harassment from hackers who are showing up in droves to disrupt conversations, both individual and business. “Zoombombing”, the term used for such party crashing activity, is raising questions from users as to how they can avoid these unwanted intrusions.
First, cyber security begins at home. Users can avoid bombers by not posting meeting schedules and sign-in information on public media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. “For those hosting private meetings, password protections are on by default and we recommend that users keep those protections on to prevent uninvited users from joining,” says Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at ESET. Also try to avoid using your personal meeting room for public meetings. If someone gets access to your personal meeting ID and the personal link, they could potentially then join any meeting in the room at any time. For extra security, users can and should set up a password entry system. This is effectively two-factor authentication for participants to use before entering the chat. Again, this password should only be shared privately. In response to the security concerns, Zoom has announced it is immediately freezing feature development for 90 days to improve security and privacy and will conduct a third-party security review.
The popularity of Zoom is unlikely to be short-lived according to some app watchers. Many are predicting that after the pandemic subsides, and the world gets back to normal, it is probable that the definition of normal will take on a new definition. Companies realizing the convenience of permitting many employees to work virtually from home and the cost savings from reduced travel and face to face conferences are expected to alter former behaviors and embrace continued use of video conferencing platforms like Zoom. As for all of us who have been banished and disconnected from personal relationships at home for more than a month: Imagine, for just a moment, experiencing a world pandemic without the digital and virtual communication tools we enjoy today. Enough said?