by Molly O’Rourke
While the country has only been on official lockdown for a little over a week, college students around the country have been out of their normal routines for three weeks. Since schools and universities closed, we’ve all been changing the way we communicate, interact and lead our daily lives. Most of us are missing our friends, our nights out in town and our coffees on campus (I’m really missing spending ridiculous amounts of money on sub-par coffees). So, while we do have to find new ways to interact online, it’s made a lot easier with the huge range of online resources and sites available to us. Over the last week, I have used all of the following sites and have decided to give my personal experience of each one.
While many people are aware of Discord, there are other similar sites that might be useful for having group video calls. Originally made for the online gaming community, Discord is useful for chatting with a group while playing a game, as you can have the window minimised in the background and it will still pick up on your audio. However, even if you aren’t playing a game it can work as a group chat software. While it is a bit confusing to begin with, the app is easy enough to use after a while. The only issue I have with Discord is the automatic start-up everytime I turn on my laptop. Apart from that, I would definitely recommend it.
Google Hangouts is a really easy (and free!) way to connect with your friends. Group conversations can host up to 100 people, while the video call option allows up to 10 participants. To start your own conversation you can either invite people by email or simply send them a link to join the chat. It’s that simple. Google Hangouts is compatible across most devices, and as it connects to your Google account, you can access your conversations from all your devices. I personally prefer Google Hangouts, it is the easiest to use, fairly stress-free and the video and sound quality are really good.
Another popular option for group calls is Zoom, which is another free software designed for business meetings. There is a free version available, which allows you to host up to 100 people in a meeting, however in group meetings there is a time limit of 40 minutes. Only the host of the meeting needs to have a Zoom account, others can join the conversation through the invite. After trying Zoom, I honestly wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. It’s a bit of a chore to set up in the first place, you have to install the software and set up an account and it all seems so unnecessary at half ten when all you want to do is chat to your friends.
Another issue is the connection; even with a strong WIFI signal the video is pixelated and lags a bit. Finally, Zoom offers a screen sharing option that allows you to enable audio as well, which would be useful for watching shows not available on Netflix, however, this feature is absolutely horrendous. As soon as you play the video, the quality drops to 480p and jumps every few seconds. In short, stay away from Zoom.
Netflix Party is another web extension that has been proven popular in the last week. Once you install the extension, you can sync up videos on Netflix and have a group chat open on the same screen. This is a really handy feature for watching TV shows and movies with your friends, although it is important to note that the extension is only available on Chrome desktops and laptops. Interestingly, Netflix Party has actually been around for years, so why is it only becoming popular now? I would argue that it’s because there are a few problems with the software, such as the outrageously large chat screen that takes up a significant portion of the screen. If you opt to use this feature, you’ll more than likely miss a lot of dialogue because the sound of typing will cover it. You may also notice the delay in typing your message and it appearing for the other person, meaning your perfectly timed joke lands a second or two too late to be appreciated. Don’t even get me started on the disaster that is the pause button; it only decides to work 25% of the time. And if one person pauses, when they resume the video jumps to catch up to the other person, with a 3 second delay…
Finally, I must give an honourable mention to my favorite website so far, Pretend You’re Xyzzy. This website allows you to play Cards Against Humanity with your friends online. While it’s not visually appealing, the site allows you to play with groups of friends and has all the expansion packs available. It’s a little difficult to set up a game, and those joining you will need a password, however if you combine the game with a Discord audio chat then it is guaranteed fun and a nice escape for a while. Just make sure you wear earphones for this one, as you don’t want your poor mom hearing the outrageous (yet hilarious) card combinations your friends submit.