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Thursday, April 23, 2020

Picking a Video Platform Right for You

During the past few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed lives worldwide. Video conferencing apps have taken off as work, school, and social interactions have shifted to an online space. But with so many video conferencing and video uploading programs out there, which one would be best for your library’s needs?

Face to Face Video Chats
Face to face video chat apps have sprung up in popularity. The beauty of these apps is the face to face interaction: after staying at home all day, it’s nice to see someone. The downside is that these apps might not be ideal for patrons with limited internet access. While most of these applications do have a chat client, the constant stream of video and audio can cause lagging or delays for patrons with limited internet access.

Zoom has easily become the star of stay-at-home meetings. The video service allows one-on-one calls as well as larger audio and video conference calls. If you have a school-aged child, you might be using Zoom already since classrooms have started to pivot to the app as an essential component to online learning. The biggest draw of Zoom is the number of people it can hold—free meetings can last up to 40 minutes and can hold up to 100 people without restricting any app features. The biggest problem with Zoom is it’s lack of privacy features. Likewise, as the app grows in popularity, so has “zoombombing,” where people hijack a video call and post hate speech and offensive images. Make sure to check your privacy settings before starting a Zoom call.

Google has two video chat solutions. Google Meet (also known as Google Hangouts Meet) is a video conferencing tool that can hold up to 250 people at the highest price point. The app was designed for businesses and offers many features that are useful for a large, corporate-style video conference. However, it is linked to the paid G Suite program and the lowest price tier is $6 a month. Google Hangouts is a free video-calling app that supports up to 10 people. The app is very basic; you can share video screens and add text messages and that’s about it. It’s a quick and easy solution without many other bells and whistles attached. While Google Hangouts works right now, it will not be an ideal long-term solution: Google is starting to remove features of the Hangouts video chat as it focuses more on Google Meet.

Facebook Messenger
For smaller, more personal meetings, Facebook Messenger is a useful option. As most modern Americans have a Facebook, it’s a platform most people are used to already. When opening up a group chat in Facebook Messenger (either on the desktop or the Messenger app), simply hit the video icon to start a video call. Since Facebook Messenger is based off of an already existing group chat from existing Facebook accounts, it isn’t an ideal situation for any chat involving a lot of people or that will be open to the public and the person who starts the Facebook Messenger video chat must be friends with everyone in the chat. Likewise, as this is a Facebook program, expect the same level of privacy (or lack thereof) compared to other Facebook applications. Facebook Messenger could be best used for a small book club meeting or a chat with a Friends group.

Presenter & Audience Platforms
But what if you have a program where you DON’T want people to be able to respond via video? With programs like story time, author chats, or anything involving an audience of over 100 people, a little more audience control might be ideal. Twitch, Kast, and Facebook Live are video platforms where one person can stream video from a webcam and viewers can react, offer feedback, or respond to the video in a chat platform. These services offer more of a ‘performer-to-audience’ type of relationship than a ‘person-to-person conversation.’ None of these services require the audience to download an application, though they do require a little set-up or downloading an application on the presenter’s end.

Facebook Live
Facebook Live is probably the easiest of these presenter and audience platforms to manage. If your library has a Facebook page, you can easily “go live” and stream live video directly from the Facebook page. If your library has a robust Facebook presence, this can be a good method to get information or content out to as many users as possible, as Facebook Live gives you the option to save recordings after going live. However, this platform is less good for immediate, real-time feedback. There is no way to tell who’s watching a Facebook Live program unless that person is on your friends list. And like I mentioned with Messenger, keep in mind Facebook’s privacy settings before recording.

Twitch already has a wide, pre-established community that is easily sorted into various categories. The site is best known as a hub for people streaming computer games and tabletop RPGs but the site’s broad category system can support anything from live music to educational talks. Tapping into Twitch’s infrastructure and properly tagging your content under the right category (ex: “Special Events”) could help boost your events past a local community. Likewise, Twitch gives you the option to save broadcasts for rewatch capabilities. The problem with Twitch is that it requires a lot of back-end setup if you’re streaming from a computer: you will also need to download a streaming software like OBS in order to properly stream video.

Kast brands itself as a “watch party” app. One person can stream a window or an application to anyone who’s entered the chat room. Kast’s biggest benefit compared to Facebook Live and Twitch is the ability to set up a private room: anyone who wishes to enter the chat room must be approved by the room’s creator. Likewise, streaming to Kast involves a lot less behind the scenes set-up than streaming to Twitch. The downside is that Kast has a relatively small pool of users compared to other streaming apps like Twitch and is much more prone to lagging or outright not working. While this small user base and private room function might seem a little counter-intuitive for public events, this makes Kast a viable option if you have something you wish to share with a small group of people, such as a webinar for virtual staff training.

Finally, don’t discount YouTube. This video platform stalwart has one factor in which it’s head and shoulders above the other platforms I’ve listed here: permanence. Once you upload a video to Youtube, you can go back and watch it as many times as you want. While this is relatively unhelpful for real-time virtual communication, it is exceedingly useful for uploading talks or webinars that you know will be referred to time and time again.

Unfortunately, there isn’t really a ‘one size fits all’ video app that’s perfect for hitting every single one of a library’s needs. Use your best judgement in examining the pros and cons of each video service before deciding which one fits your library’s needs. And remember: this is an uncertain time. Both librarians and patrons are adjusting to new situations and new experiences. No matter what video app you use or how you do your outreach, the important thing is that you’ve attempted the outreach services to begin with.
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