Video conferencing

Video chats for meetings and the like. One-on-one services... we have that sorted. In particular most chat clients seem to go at least OK-ish. Maybe check out someone else’s listing if you want to get in-depth here.

Also Hangouts, Zoom, Red Dead Redemption

More interesting video conferencing

Benedict Evans Solving online events

A conference, or an ‘event’, is a bundle. There is content from a stage, with people talking or presenting or doing panels and maybe taking questions. Then, everyone talks to each other in the hallways and over coffee and lunch and drinks. […] there are all of the meetings that you schedule because everyone is there. At a really big ‘conference’ many people don’t even go to the actual event itself. […]

The only part of that bundle that obviously works online today is the content. It’s really straightforward to turn a conference presentation or a panel into a video stream, but none of the rest is straightforward at all.

First, we haven’t worked out good online tools for many of the reasons people go to these events. Most obviously, we don’t have any software tool for bumping into people in the same field by random chance and having a great conversation. No-one has ever really managed to take a networking event and put it online.[…] In other words, some conferences are built around creating a network in the hallways. If you take them online, there are no hallways.

Webb on aimulating coffee-table encounters mentions an example at “!!Con 2020”.

Minglr (Song, Riedl, and Malone 2020) is a hack of jitsi designed to foment ad hoc, serendipitous discussion. I do not know how good it is, but the fact that jitsi enables this kind of thing is a good argument for it.

Can a better UI solve this issue? Robert Fabricant We’re in a golden age of UX. Why is video chat still stuck in the ’90s?

Also, who decided that a scrolling, vertical feed was the right way to represent the comments and input from the broader group of participants in Zoomland? What if our questions hung in the air around our heads (like thought bubbles) until we felt that they were sufficiently addressed? What if the other participants could migrate closer to us to show that they too, want to discuss that issue or topic? Perhaps the speech bubble could grow if others “join” and begin to crowd into the video window of the person who is leading the discussion until they respond?

Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement studies this stuff produces guides, e.g. Woodley et al. (2020), pitched as Designing engaging online events to counteract Zoom fatigue and get stuff done

Groups of six people or less are randomly assigned to breakout rooms, providing participants the opportunity to network and collaborate with new people. (It can be difficult for all participants to feel included and contribute within larger groups). Participants take turns introducing themselves and something about the work they are doing, the work they would like to do, or issues that are important to them. The group then decides on which idea to take forward, and collectively brainstorms how to get the project off the ground or how to solve the problem. A Collaborative Ideas session works well as a 60-90 minute session, providing enough time for participants to explore, discuss, and transcribe their ideas.

ICLR 2020 seems to be widely accaliamed as a best-practice online conference. Their post about it should be mined for tips. Also because they are big nerds, they did machine learning on themselves

Where it made sense, we wanted to use machine learning in the design of the conference programme and experience itself. We used a latent variable model for review score calibration, a vision model to extract thumbnails from each paper to be used on the web, natural language tools to visualise related papers, and recommender systems to create sets of balanced recommendations for papers and participants

The ICLR papers visualisation


mmhmm is a multi-person-presentation-oriented video conference app.


Jitsi is open source and free, and the only one here which makes an attempt to protect your data from the company which hosts it. It’s browser based and requires no downloads on desktop.

Go ahead, video chat with the whole team. In fact, invite everyone you know. Jitsi Meet is a fully encrypted, 100% open source video conferencing solution that you can use all day, every day, for free — with no account needed.

I would like to know about the moderation features.

Having used it successfully I recommend it; I handles unlimited length meetings with high security, unlike commercial competitors. I am told it can in practice handle up to 35-ish participants. It will permit up to 75 to attempt to meet.


Minglr, mentioned above is a hack of jitsi designed to foment ad hoc, serendipitous discussion. I do not know how good it is, but the fact that jitsi enables this kind of thing is a good argument for it.

Even though many people have found today’s commonly used videoconferencing systems very useful, these systems do not provide support for one of the most important aspects of in-person meetings: the ad hoc, private conversations that happen before, after, and during the breaks of scheduled events—the proverbial hallway conversations. Here we describe our design of a simple system, called Minglr, which supports this kind of interaction by facilitating the efficient matching of conversational partners. We also describe a study of this system’s use at the ACM Collective Intelligence 2020 virtual conference. Analysis of our survey and system log data provides evidence for the usefulness of this capability, showing, for example, that 86% of people who used the system successfully at the conference thought that future virtual conferences should include a tool with similar functionality. We expect similar functionality to be incorporated in other videoconferencing systems and to be useful for many other kinds of business and social meetings, thus increasing the desirability and feasibility of many kinds of remote work and socializing.


Lozya is a video conferencing app which also simulates a virtual space in which to conference, so you can hide in a corner and talk with your mates. It is cute but I know little else about it.


Zoom seems to be the current default. It is famed for its lackadaisical approach to confidentiality users and their conversations:

Zoom’s privacy page states:

“Whether you have Zoom account or not, we may collect Personal Data from or about you when you use or otherwise interact with our Products.”

This includes, but is not limited to, your physical address, phone number, your job title, credit and debit card information, your Facebook account, your IP address, your OS and device details, and more.

It has been caught covertly tracking you for Facebook. (UPDATE: Fixed when busted.) It actively monitors content in some ill-explained way. There has been such a copious fountain of zoom security gaffes that zoom-bashing feels like a nearly as large a growth industry. I call this the Zoom gloom boom. The latest zoom-gloomer is the company’s own CEO who admitted they intend to monitor users.

Corporate clients will get access to Zoom’s end-to-end encryption service now being developed, but Yuan said free users won’t enjoy that level of privacy, which makes it impossible for third parties to decipher communications.

“Free users for sure we don’t want to give that because we also want to work together with FBI, with local law enforcement in case some people use Zoom for a bad purpose,” Yuan said on the call.

As with Skype, you can reduce the harm of this bit of spyware by not using the app, instead opting to keep the video chat sandboxed in your browser. Regardless of such precautions, it, like skype, is not end-to-end encrypted so you should expect your calls to get intercepted by nation-state or other in addition to whatever the company does internally with your data.


Skype is elderly video software whose major advantage is inertia. Downsides include the fact that it is honeypot spyware, that reads your passwords and records your messages for unaccountable american surveillance programs. But you have some colleagues who are determined to use it, of course. You could run it in a docker jail, but it is probably simpler to use the web client. This will still let them monitor your calls, but at least it won’t waste your disk space or require you to install their suspect dumpster fire app.

On background noise

Oh my friends, my beloved flatties! My fine and fair fellow travelers! How proud I am of your assiduous hydration! How proud I am of your attention to staunchly high fibre diets! How amply these are each demonstrated by both the marvellous power of your streams of urine, and the magnificent gravity of dambuster turds you are capable of dropping! However, may I recommend if you use the upstairs toilet when I am in a video meeting, you close BOTH doors to mask the sound. Because otherwise, anything between 1 and 100 people across our fair nation will also be acoustically invited to admire your laudably prodigious natural functions. And then: How could I restrain myself from enthusing about said functions at length in the middle of a meeting? Then my meeting will be off the rails and our nation’s science will grind to a halt! What I am saying is: Please help me to restrain myself from needing to gush effusively about your effusive gushing.

Song, Jaeyoon, Christoph Riedl, and Thomas W. Malone. 2020. “Online Mingling: Supporting Ad Hoc, Private Conversations at Virtual Conferences.” SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 3662620. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network.

Woodley, Louise, Catherine Pratt, Rachael Ainsworth, Eva Amsen, Arne Bakker, Stefanie Butland, Stephanie O’Donnell, et al. 2020. “Using Virtual Events to Facilitate Community Building: Event Formats,” July.