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Review: Zoom – A New Online Video Conferencing Service

Some friends in Silicon Valley recently introduced me to some people who had recently left Cisco’s WebEx team.  They were promoting a new online video conferencing service called Zoom (http://www.zoom.us), which promises high definition (HD) video conferencing and desktop sharing for free.  With trepidation to their claims, I took Zoom for a free test drive, which gave me 40 minutes of free service for each conference session with up to 25 of my colleges (with unlimited time for one-on-one calls).

Call it love at first byte.

The intuitive ease of use is what first struck me as I created a meeting and invited my colleagues to join me for our weekly tech team meeting.  We used GoTo Meeting and WebEx for years to host our Tech Team meetings, so I wanted to see how the team reacted and used this new offering.

The first meeting was seamless.  Everyone arrived on time with little to no wait time on the simple download of the software client.  Many are accustomed to the wait of five minutes or longer for GoTo Meeting or WebEx to download, so this was a good experience.  The sharp quality of the HD video was astonishing as was the simple layout of the call: participants in small screens along the top of the client, with a larger version exposed when each person talks.  The user interface (UI) design is simple, intuitive and elegant–as it should be for an Apple or Google product.  The desktop sharing was easy to navigate and use while the recording feature was a simple process to figure out.  Our tech team leader was in his car at the time of the call, so he pulled into a parking lot in Menlo Park and found a WiFi Hotspot.  He downloaded the Zoom app on iTunes and installed it on his iPad.  Within a minute, he was on the call live in HD while mobile.  Again, the quality was stunning.  The best thing we can say about Zoom was that the technology quickly disappeared into the background and the focus was on the conversation, not the product/service.

Other features we are beginning to use include Zoom’s ability to easily integrate with Dropbox, which allows for fast, just-in-time collaboration while synchronizing our documents in real time and keeping them up to date.  We also record our meetings and sync with Dropbox, giving our geographically dispersed teams instant access to the latest information and thought processes. We are working with one of the industry’s largest job trailer services and have introduced this concept to them to integrate into job trailers across the United States.  The idea is to create job conferences that can be planned, either for daily/weekly meetings, or spontaneously, like for a field condition that needs immediate action.  Using the desktop version for inside the job trailer or mobile version in the field, Zoom is being positioned as a project-based tool to create the environment for important decision making.

Another unique feature is its ability to be easily integrated into other Cloud products and services using a technology called REST Application Programing Interface (API).  Using the REST API, you have the ability to use Zoom inside other Cloud-based systems, providing an interesting way to customize your IT environment. Zoom does have its limits, most notably that Zoom is only Voice Over IP (VOIP), which means there is no alternative phone number dial in.  Either you are connected on the Web or you are out.  With the growth of mobile devices and Cloud services, we feel that this is not a deal killer, but something that must be managed over time.

A very nice feature of Zoom is its pricing plan.  The free version gets you 40 minutes of time with up to 25 people, but unlimited time for one-on-one calls.  Businesses can subscribe for $9.99 per month for unlimited time and calls and educational groups can subscribe for $0.99 per month for unlimited time and calls. Integrating Zoom into your web site or Cloud product will cost $.005 per minute of use.

Zoom calls its ability to host an HD conference, share desktops/documents and be mobile a Unified Meeting Experience.  We just call it cool and a potential game changer in the path of creating a more collaborative environment for the creation of the built environment.