I had been thinking about writing about Zoom and its impressive progress in driving innovation for a few days, when I found a notice to download another version (I’ve already lost count of these updates ) of the delicious mmhmm beta version, which has become a must for my video conferences and recordings.
It makes perfect sense for video conferencing apps to take advantage of the present moment to speed up innovation: the environment wants more. From the basic video conferences we used to hold back in February or March — for many of us this was the first contact with the medium, forcing us to spend the first quarter of an hour of each meeting trying to get the application to work for everyone — we have moved on to the habit-forming phase: we are now reasonably comfortable in front of the camera, we have learned netiquette such as muting the microphone when we are not participating or lighting ourselves properly, we use virtual backgrounds (sometimes too often: there’s nothing wrong with a green screen) and we even handle screen sharing reasonably well.
But beyond the improvement that comes with practice, the tools themselves have stepped on the gas and are creating a roadmap based on the freedom to work from wherever we want. Thus, the initial fears and reticence about Zoom are pretty much a thing of the past. The company, which has seen its value rise to $152 billion, is determined to take advantage of the moment and has been introducing new features like synchronization with presentations in formats such as PowerPoint or Keynote and the possibility of using them as a virtual background — more elegant and eye-catching than simple screen sharing — along with full end-to-end encryption, and most importantly, the creation of an event platform supporting even admission fees, in anticipation of what will undoubtedly become a whole ecosystem of growing activity.
Say what you like about Zoom, but if you use several platforms, it’s clear that it still has the best latency, which means fewer frozen images and quality problems, and has imposed a pace of innovation no other platform can follow.
In the same vein, another company, more modest in its claims but with the promise of doing interesting things — as befits having a manager with Phil Libin’s experience behind it — has already convinced some investors. In reality, the tool makes use of the macOS ability to create a virtual camera in software as other tools like OBS do, but while OBS is an open source project for ambitious online productions using multiple sources that is not particularly intuitive to use, anyone can master mmhmm in a breeze. I have written about this tool before, and so have sites such as The Verge or The Economist, among others.
What does it do? Simply, it can be used as a camera in applications such as Zoom, Teams, Skype and many others, and allows you to make much more professional broadcasts, putting, for example, your presentation, previously imported as images or videos, in over-the-shoulder mode (the famous screen next to the classic news), as a virtual background, or we can change the size of our image, using different colors or even in semi-transparent mode. In addition, it allows me to use it independently to record complete presentations and play them back later, something that I am using quite a bit in the wrap-ups of my online sessions and that allows me to consider offering my students more than an image of a boring guy talking non-stop, and instead something more similar to a television show based on easy-to-use production techniques.
Mmhmm has also incorporated a laser pointer that is managed with the mouse, a platform that allows third parties to offer virtual backgrounds, and you can even manage your presentations with the Bluetooth controller of some video game consoles. Still only available in beta by invitation, but incorporating users at a healthy pace, and although it obviously can’t be compared to Zoom, it has managed to become, at least for me, its inseparable companion, and a way to improve the level of my participation in meetings, classes and conferences.
It is very interesting to see how, in the face of a new environment created as a result of a change of context, companies are competing to speed up innovation and how users quickly learn to select those that offer the best performance. As recently as April, many people said they were giving up on Zoom, alluding to problems such as its incomplete encryption, zoombombing, or its founder’s Chinese origins. Since then, the company has responded to these glitches while fending off stiff competition. Very few companies would be capable of maintaining Zoom’s pace of innovation, which in turn has been rewarded through high adoption rates.
If your video conferences still look like those from the first few months of the pandemic, think about what you’re doing wrong: this is not about vanity, but performance and learning to communicate effectively. The video conferencing environment has evolved and we must keep up with its progress. It won’t just be your interlocutors who will appreciate it: you and your self-esteem will also take a boost.
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
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