Video Chats and a Virtual Playhouse

Gallery View of a Video Chat. This is not my family.

Social distancing has pushed us apart. At the same time, it has pushed many of us online. Children are learning online. Old and young are streaming video entertainment. Millions are at their job virtually. They are communicating and collaborating with colleagues and customers. Doctors are seeing their patients via Telehealth portals. 

When we get to the other side of the curve, we will have learned a lot about how to get proficient with all these things online. A lot of our newly formed online engagements will continue. It will seem very odd to sit in a doctor’s waiting room reading old magazines and enduring the coughs and sneezes of other patients. Some parents will get interested in lifelong learning after watching the experience their children have had. Some companies will find part of the work employees have been doing online can continue to be done online. They will save office space and business related travel expense.

One of the beneficiaries of the e-stay_at_home phenomenon has been San Jose, CA based Zoom Video Communications, Inc. Even before the Covid-19 outbreak, Zoom had become the de facto video chat service for the roughly 90% of Americans who are under orders to stay at home. Zoom users have gone from 10 million per day to 200 million. The company’s technology has gone from an interesting enterprise communications tool to global critical infrastructure.

The company’s share price (ZM) has risen substantially since its initial public offering last year. On March 23, Zoom shares surged 135%, closing at an all-time high of $159.56. As of the close on Thursday, Zoom was valued at about $35 billion, and the CEO has joined the Forbes list of billionaires. Various security weaknesses have emerged but the CEO claims to have a solid plan in place to regain customer loyalty. More on the security issues coming up.

Early in the week, I setup a group video chat with my wife and I plus our four children, two spouses, and six grandchildren. Our family group spanned Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. Ages varied from 5 to 75. Each person, or in some cases a few persons, appeared in a separate video window. The video quality was excellent and everybody had a good time sharing what they are doing, cooking, eating, watching, reading, learning, etc. 

You may have read about security concerns with Zoom. Zoombombing, where uninvited participants have joined Zoom meetings, has gotten headlines. The primary solution to prevent Zoomboming is simple: use strong passwords. Zoom should make it mandatory to use a password. Another security exposure is the meeting ID. The host/owner/administrator of a Zoom video conference has a meeting ID; e.g. 189-654-652. If an invited participant shares the ID on social media or email, it is possible someone may get access to it and guess the password if it is abc123 or other trivial password, and then join the meeting and act inappropriately. A simple precaution is the Zoom option to have a random meeting ID assigned for each meeting.

Zoom is one of many video conferencing services. I have used a number of them, but I find Zoom to be the easiest and most reliable. The cost is free for video chats of 40 minutes or less. For $150 per year, the PRO option allows for unlimited chats with up to 100 people. The Zoom service works on desktops, laptops, or mobile devices. Whether it is FaceTime, Google Hangout, WebEx, Uber Conferences, or Zoom, video chats are a good way to communicate with friends, family, or professional engagements.

Zoom is also being used for community engagement. The Bedford Playhouse, Home of Clive Davis Arts Center is in downtown Bedford, New York. The Playhouse website has a Virtual Playhouse where Zoom is used to bring content to the community. The Playhouse website says,

If there’s a silver lining on lockdown, it’s that we have an unprecedented amount of time with our families + the opportunity to explore an exciting amount of art, film and culture online.  Virtual Playhouse aims to bring you a selection of interactive experiences, connectivity and conversations to enjoy with our amazing community — just like you normally would at the Playhouse. 

Virtual Playhouse

Bedford is in Westchester County, NY where, as of Friday morning, there were more than 17,000 Covid-19 cases and growing. You can see below the information about one of the Playhouse’s programs for next week. Doug Maine and I have known each other for decades. Doug was a senior exec at MCI and I was at IBM. We both had involvement with the early days of the Internet and that will be the topic we discuss next week. Anyone is free to listen in with or without video.

The Origins of the Internet ~ Presentation + Discussion with Doug Maine and John Patrick – April 15, 7:30pm

Deep inside the offices of IBM and MCI in the 1980s, Doug Maine and John Patrick were two men at the heart of conversations, inventions, partnerships and developments that would transform our lives, business and culture on a global scale. Join us on April 15 via Zoom for a TED-talks style conversation with Doug and John about their fascinating rolls in “inventing the internet”.

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