Virtually breaking social distancing
As anti-pandemic measures put a cramp in many people’s personal lives, social networking products are helping people to stay sane and are differentiating themselves and finding their own gaps to fill and own.
From office workers to kids, each product is finding its own niche and differentiating its product from the rest of the pack. Some of the most successful during this pandemic include:
Quarantine Chat is the one social networking service that has come out solely as a result of the coronavirus, and which seems to have attached its wagon to only this period. It is designed for people who are feeling isolated because of living in quarantine.
The service was created as a way of keeping people in contact with each other during the social isolation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The voice chat app allows users to talk to random strangers.
The founders, artists Danielle Baskin and Max Hawkins, launched Quarantine Chat on March 1, running the app through Dialup, which they had created a year previously.
“If you’re isolated, you’re not having those random conversations with your barista or someone on the subway. It’s great for your mental health to connect with someone else going through a similar experience,” Baskin said. “We hope our project brings magic to the new reality where hundreds of thousands of people might be stuck inside for the next month.”
“While COVID-19 is not a lighthearted matter, we hope this project brings people moments of joy,” Baskin said, who herself was once in self-quarantine for a case of mono while living in China.
From 70 users shortly after its launch, the service now has more than 10,000 people logging on for random conversations with strangers. Rapid growth, but it ranks well below most others when it comes to the amount of its users.
Houseparty is a social networking service for conversations between friends that has boomed since Covid-19 prevented people from going out to socialise. The app allows groups of up to eight people to video chat and play games such as Uno or a pub-quiz like trivia game through mobiles, tablets or desktops.
Users receive a notification when friends are online and available to group video chat, and they will spend an average of about 51 minutes per day on the app in group or in one-on-one chats. Users can set up their own rooms, and bounce between multiple rooms, with various groups of friends in each room.
The app was downloaded 17 million times in March when lockdown started.
The growth of the company, as dynamic as it has been, may have been held back by persistent rumours of serious privacy and cyber-security issues.
Houseparty denied hacking rumours in March and offered a US$1 million to anyone who could prove those claims in a March 31 tweet.
“Houseparty is secure. There have been no data breaches and no exposure of customer data or third-party accounts,” the company said. “Immediately upon hearing these false reports, we assembled an internal team who worked alongside external experts to investigate. We determined these claims were not true.”
Zoom is a videoconferencing service that has taken over business meetings by storm. No longer able to meet in the boardroom at work, employees and directors alike are meeting online via Zoom, with some companies holding press conferences and even shareholders meetings.
Up to 200 people can enter a Zoom meeting, for example, which may be one reason why the app became such a popular platform for businesses, schools, churches and other organizations during COVID-19. The app, however, has faced serious privacy and cyber-security allegations since the platform gained hundreds of millions of users amid the pandemic.
Zoom lived up to its name and zoomed from 10 million daily users in December to 200 million in April and still growing.
Zoom’ sales and share prices are already up more than 50 per cent in 2020.
Others in the same space include Webex from Cisco and Skype and Teams from Microsoft all of which are seeing major increases in sales. Most are offering special deals for their conferencing services during the outbreak.
Omegle with the tagline “Talk to strangers!” is a videoconferencing service that allows the user — especially Generation Z members —to meet new people online. It started to take off during the pandemic as people started to get Zoom fatigue, and missed never getting to meet anyone new in a social environment.
The site, founded in 2009, pairs random visitors through video and text chat, and spiked in popularity over the last few months. The increase in usage has been mainly thanks to teenagers feeling alienated by months of remote learning and social isolation.
Visitors can submit keywords to filter for people with shared interests.
Omegle has been very popular with TikTok stars and Gen Z influencers, who use the site for virtual meet-and-greet and other events. YouTube star Emma Chamberlain threw herself an Omegle birthday party in May.
Founder Leif K-Brooks, a University of Vermont dropout, was only 18 when he started Omegle.
Some 11 years later, more than a million people use Omegle daily and his technology has powered over 2 billion conversations.
Minglr has found a new niche for conversation applications, filling the gap for remote workers who are missing out on the type of impromptu water cooler conversation breaks and other informal interactions they would have had in the office before the pandemic hit.
Minglr is available as open source software to anyone who is interested in using the tool, including developers who would like to contribute to it.
Created by Tom Malone, who teaches at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Minglr is an open-source software allows users to chat with people at mutually convenient times and is designed for people to chat and mingle before or after a professional online meeting. It is under these situations that many conference goers get the most benefit in the real world, and the idea is that can be recreated in an online setting.
It works like this: At a virtual meeting or conference, participants and attendees log on to Minglr and see a list of people who are available to talk. The system lets them select the ones they want to speak with. They can also see the people who want to talk to them. And if they select one of those people, then both parties enter into a private video room where they can chat for as long or as short a time as they wish.
“From a collective intelligence standpoint, lots of research suggests that those random encounters are key to creative innovations in cities, research labs, companies, and elsewhere. And we know from our own personal experiences that they are also critical to making new professional connections, forming social bonds, and building camaraderie in a group. But most people don’t realize how straightforward it is to create videoconferencing software that supports these ad-hoc interactions,” Malone said.
The brand isn’t the greatest, however, as it is easily confused with Mingle, a dating app.
Use of TikTok has exploded since the pandemic, but it hasn’t been without its problems as the US has threatened to shut it down, due to concerns over its Chinese ownership and a threat to national security, unless it is sold to a US-based company by November.
The site, which claims to have more than 100 million users, allows people to post short videos in a vertical format, and has pr oven very popular with a younger market. Young people doing the latest dance moves are popular along with short skits, again for a young audience.
The treat to lock it down in the United States, unless it is bought out, has had many social media businesses try to launch their own competitors, including Instagram launching its Reels.
In fact the app has already been banned in India as a threat to its national security, along with about 60 other Chinese apps. That happened shortly after a deadly border clash with China.
Whether TikTok will be a victim of the US/China trade impasse, or will build upon its pandemic viewing success, remains to be seen.