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Zoom. How COVID-2019 Has Us All Living in Zoom

In Minnesota, Eleanor Dolan celebrated her 17th birthday on Sunday with her 20 closest friends. There was pop music in the background, the friends sang “Happy Birthday”, and Eleanor sliced a cheesecake and blew out a toothpick, pretending it was a candle. The girl blew on the screen of her device, and her friends in different corners of the city extinguished the candles on their improvised cakes as well. The birthday party was held in Zoom.

Teenagers have been jokingly calling themselves Zoomers for a long time, but now this name has become literal. Recently, Zoom turned into the main, much-needed social platform for hundreds of thousands, even millions of people. Due to the switch to online learning in many universities, students have become the majority of its users.

This month, the Zoom application became the most downloaded free app in Apple’s App Store.

According to Apptopia (a platform for tracking mobile apps), the biggest day in the company’s history was March 15th, when more than 600,000 people downloaded the app. The stock market may have crashed, but Zoom stocks rose several times. Now the company is valued at about $29 billion, which is more than the cost of Delta, American Airlines and United Airlines, the world’s leading airline companies.

Since January, when a new, previously unknown strand of coronavirus began to spread in China, Zoom had been preparing for this moment. It is not surprising since at that time it was already clear that the main users of Zoom would be employees forced to hold conferences from home. The company actively conducted training sessions and monitored the situation, and even removed the limit of 40 minutes on free calls in China.

However, it is obvious that no strategy or planning could foresee the development of the company on such a scale. Moreover, no one could foresee that the application would become a cultural phenomenon where not only classes and conferences are held, but also parties, concerts, various shows, and even church services. Zoom certainly did not expect to become a meme.

Just recently, someone created a Facebook group for those who are forced to stay at home – “Zoom Memes for Self Quaranteens”. In less than a week, the group managed to grow to about 150,000 members and continues to gain popularity, which says something about what we find funny 2020 memes.

College students even transferred blind dates to Zoom, and Ethel’s Club, a popular wellness platform, organizes tarot reading events.

Zoom was founded by the former head of Cisco Systems Eric Yuan back in 2011, but surprisingly, it is only now that the most important moment for the app has come. The unexpected significance of the platform in the culture causes some anxiety related to the confidentiality and safety of users, moderation of content and sensitivity. There is a bit of worry about the functioning of the Zoom.

Earlier this month, Zoom’s CEO Mr. Yuan said that the moment was critical: “Overnight almost everybody read and understood they needed a tool like this.”

The Community Realized What Z in Gen Z Stands For

Every day, virtual meetings are gaining more popularity. At Harvard University, as in many others, full-time studies for students and graduates are canceled. Classes are conducted through Zoom instead.

In recent days, a popular joke among college students says that everyone is now attending one single school – Zoom University – but with completely different price tags. Merch of “Zoom University” is already available on Amazon and RedBubble. 

In the Zoom meme group, teenagers are joking that now we finally know what the Z in “Gen Z” really means.

Students of different ages admit that it was very difficult to adapt to the requirements of health care, isolation, and closure of schools. This is why Zoom has become so popular. Using the college group party, students try to copy a certain sense of normality. Beer pong evenings, parties and other events have found their place on the platform.

Students also adopted the popular drinking game “never have I ever” to Zoom parties, calling it “never have I ever left quarantine”.

Senior at Carnegie Mellon, Lucas Moiseyev noted that if someone manages to create a party atmosphere in this remote format, it will become the mainstay. “Twitch is to YouTube as Zoom can be to TikTok.”

The platform can easily end up becoming part of Gen Z’s daily life after the coronavirus pandemic is over, especially if more social features will be added, believes Mr. Moiseyev.

From the responses of the students, they want more things such as funny filters, direct messages, stickers, various video effects, or some editing tools. All of these features are available on the TikTok and Snapchat platforms.

One of the important aspects for them is the ability to search hangouts in the app. (Right now joining a party is only possible by using a direct link from other platforms).

On TikTok, teenagers are already suggesting life hacks like “how to pretend that you are in class when you are actually not”.

One way to create memes or funny videos is using custom backgrounds. For example, at one of the parties in Zoom, a student figured out how to loop a popular video meme with stripper Ricardo Milos in the background.

With the advent of new users on the Zoom platform, new social norms are developing. A Kansas State University student posted on Twitter that he was not familiar with Zoom etiquette. What do you do if you need to go to the bathroom? Can you eat during the online session? Can your cat participate? Do you need pants? 

Too many users in Zoom can make the call chaotic since many forget to turn off the microphone, keep chatting in the sidebar or change the background every minute.

The founder of Polluters Out, 21-year-old Ayisha Siddiqa, invited climate activists to a Zoom party. The main contingent were teenagers. The session gathered more than 80 participants and, 30 minutes later, became so noisy that everyone had to divide into small groups in other calls.

Zoom Shot out Literally from Nowhere

Why exactly Zoom? Why didn’t users opt for Skype, which has been available since 2003? There are numerous applications such as Apple FaceTime, Google Hangouts or Facebook Messenger. They all got an increase of users, but not as much as Zoom.

For example, the Marco Polo company (another application designed for video chats) reported an increase in the number of users by almost three times over a week.

Many schools, colleges, and universities use Zoom to educate students. The characteristics of the platform allow them to not only communicate with several people at the same time but also use some social network functions. For example, you can smooth out your skin and gently focus the image just like on Instagram using the Touch Up My Appearance button, and in order to hide a cluttered room, you can set a custom background.

Rishi Jaluria, a Research Analyst at D.A. Davidson, explains that Zoom is perceived as a ”new brand”, and teenagers do not want to use outdated platforms and technologies.

But it is not only the characteristics that contributed to Zoom’s sudden popularity. PitchBook technology analyst Paul Kondra believes that the platform is popular because of its simplicity and reliability, and that is why it has become the standard for video conferencing applications today. 

However, users should be careful using Zoom and thoroughly read the terms of the agreement, as some of them may violate the privacy of users. This was announced by the executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum, Jules Polonetsky.

According to Polonetsky, the standard privacy policy of the popular platform allows sharing data for the purpose of targeted advertising. He also noted that some Zoom conditions do not comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act in addition to 130+ state laws that were passed in 2014 on student privacy.

Zoom also has a feature that can send information to the call manager about whether the participants are multitasking on the device. 

Mr. Polonetsky warns that most users are not aware of this, that’s why Zoom should make this setting obvious.

This function is made for employers so that they can provide their employees with thorough training. By default, it is turned off, explains a representative of Zoom.

Nowadays, there is also a fear that Zoom, as it grows, may face the same problems as Facebook, Twitter, and other huge social networks. Specifically, the moderation of content can become the main issue. On social media, people can publish or sell illegal materials such as child pornography, and use some platforms for live streams of crime.

A Pennsylvania court case last year revealed that Zoom had been used to distribute child pornography.

Mr. Polonetsky said that Zoom should prepare for the fact that the more widely the online platform will be used, the more people will abuse it, and the company should be ready to process reports and complaints. However, since Zoom is not an ordinary social network like Facebook, but a video service, it may run into fewer issues.

“Zoom is designed to be used as a business service, and our user policies explicitly prohibit any illegal or abusive activity or content on the platform, including any activities that threaten, exploit or otherwise harm children,” said a company representative.

It’s Here to Stay

Just recently, teachers from a huge number of US schools contacted their students in Zoom and started conducting virtual classes for the first time. 

The schools took advantage of Zoom’s generous offer to make it free for students of all ages (from kindergartens to school graduates) in the USA, Italy, and Japan.

In general, Zoom is a “freemium” app. It offers sessions for up to 100 people for 40 minutes absolutely free of charge. However, if you want to assemble a bigger group or need administrative control, the cost will be $14.99 per month.

The D.A. Davidson analyst, Mr. Jaluria, believes that the company will benefit over time from building a brand of such size. This should be especially noticeable when the current schoolchildren and students, today’s platform users, find work and become the country’s labor force in a few years. 

Zoom tries to make it clear that they are not aiming to take advantage of the crisis. 

Last month, Mr. Yuan wrote on his blog that the epidemic has greatly expanded his understanding of what it is like to be a video communications provider. He commented that now he is compelled to help everyone who needs it.

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