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It’s not so easy to rank video call platforms

About two weeks ago, one of my bosses sent an email asking me to rank order my preferred video conferencing platforms.

There were four options: Zoom, Cisco’s WebEx, Microsoft’s Teams, and the video platform for our learning management platform. There are many other options, but these are the only platforms with which our university has licensing agreements. And quite frankly, the choices weren’t an issue. These platforms have (mostly) served us well during the pandemic.

My issue was with the simplicity of his single question. I appreciated the short survey, and it should have taken me a few seconds to rank them. Instead, it required 15-minutes of deep thought before I picked my favorites and clicked “submit.”

Fast forward a few days, and I was already rethinking my ranking. In fact, today I’d rank these platforms differently knowing what we now know about recent upgrades to these well-known platforms.

See, there’s fierce competition in the video conferencing realm, thanks in part to the pandemic and our move to online meetings and instruction. I say “in part” because the video conferencing platform competition started long before COVID-19 reached our shores. The war to win the hearts and minds of telecommuters started long ago, but users are now reaping the rewards of those long-standing rivalries.

I liken the state of video conferencing to the “Game of Thrones.” Like the characters in the books and popular HBO series who were trying to win the Iron Throne, each platform has its own unique problem (or in some cases, multiple, seemingly insurmountable problems). But they also have many positive characteristics, redeeming qualities that make them worthy to sit on the Throne and, more importantly, at the top of my ranking.

The problem now, of course, is that the Game rages on and I’ve already done my ranking. Now I want to change it.

So, here’s how I ranked them: Zoom, Teams, WebEx, and that other “I’m not even going to mention its name here” platform that I only use when absolutely forced to do so.

My top three have similar features. I really wanted to rank WebEx first because of its scheduling and events features, the speed with which it prepares my recordings, and additional control features. But it was missing a very important feature: the ability to alter my background.

That all changed a few days ago.

With recent WebEx updates (WBS40.6 on Macs, WBS40.7 on PCs, WBS39.8 on smartphones), we now have background options similar to those on Zoom and Teams.

If you’re on a Mac or PC, you can change a background on the fly. Click the ellipse icon to get the settings menu. Then click Change Virtual Background. You can pick a default image or simply blur your background. When you’re done, click Apply to see your new background.

Now, rather than seeing the brown wall in my makeshift bedroom-office background, I can act as if I’m teaching from a beautiful beach in the Caribbean.

Or maybe I’m really teaching from the Caribbean.

Still, when the dust settles and the game of video conferencing thrones winner is crowned, we’ll all feel like winners because of our new abilities to connect with colleagues and clients, teachers and students all over the world.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is a professor of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adam earn.com.

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