The Skype’s the Limit

I describe some real (and fake) Zoom knockoffs.

Reading Time: 8 minutes

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By Ying Chen

As an amateur Internet historian, it is my duty to capture every minutia of the online world and present it on a silver platter for the average person to masticate. While many others suffer and toil in their 2020 misery, I am hard at work cataloging all the juicy narratives this year has to offer. One particularly succulent story is the myriad online conferencing software that has sprung up to catch every last drop of demand the market has to offer. It wasn’t too far into the quarantine when one ambitious platform, Zoom, beat all the others to the punch and nabbed the greatest share of the consumers. Of course, the behemoth tech corporations that run the world would not give up so easily. While many smaller companies withered and died in Zoom’s muscly grip, the whales of the industry poured every cent they could muster into building up a rival. So I, the humble Internet historian, am here to recount what will surely become but a footnote in history and lead you down the dreary Zoom Bootleg Hall of Fame.

1. Google Meet

The only enterprise to nearly rival Emperor Zoom himself was none other than Alphabet Inc., better known as Google. The gargantuan company battled head-to-head with Zoom from the very beginning, but the months following March quickly proved which conferencing platform was fittest to rule. Though Google held massive brand accountability over Zoom as well as near-limitless funding and an infinite hunger for power, they faltered on the battlefield. As Zoom thrived and brought full classes of miserable students together, Google Meet struggled to keep every pupil in place, with kids often stuck looking at a wall of empty frames. I am still flabbergasted to find that, months after all this began, Google Meet is still having critical bandwidth issues. Not to mention that breakout rooms and screen sharing on this platform are far inferior to their counterpart. If you have low productivity aspirations, however, and are content to run with second-rate software, Google Meet is the application for you! (I will remark that this follows the universal rule of brand rivalries: Blue is always superior to Green.)

2. Microsoft Teams

The quintessential Zoom facsimile, there is truly no platform more forgettable than Microsoft Teams. Boasting crap-tier user accessibility and a long list of features that nobody asked for, Teams tries to copy both Zoom and Slack at once. It would be remiss of me, however, not to mention how this platform is textbook Microsoft. The company is well known for its habit of latching on to any and every trend possible in an attempt to add even more wealth to their already disgustingly tall heap. Fortunately for the corporation, and unfortunately for everyone else, Microsoft is truly too big to fail. Despite marketing a complicated and user-unfriendly interface to the worst possible audience—the middle-aged workforce—Microsoft Teams will in all likelihood still be around for our grandchildren to use. I must admit that the very name of this platform was enough to inspire me to weave this cautionary tale of unchecked corporate greed. I must also admit that I am getting really tired of Bill Gates shoving his fat, hairy finger in every pie.

3. Amazon Groups

If you thought that the first two platforms were particularly horrid, I must caution you that the Hall of Fame floor gets filthier from here on out. As usual, Amazon has found yet another way to crush small businesses on a global scale. Because the corporation thrives on catering to people who are too lazy to leave their house, a conferencing program was right up their alley of indolence. Unfortunately for them, they were too marooned in their ways to build an effective competitor. In order to use Amazon Groups, one must purchase a subscription to the service, which costs an eye-watering $80 per year. Amazon does have an answer to occasional customers, though. If you only join or host meetings once a week, Amazon will happily cover your call for only $1.99 per minute. It is vital to read the fine print for this service, though, since color video is only included in the Fire™ package and costs an additional $35 per year. There is currently no option for occasional customers to have color video in pay-per-view calls; their only choice is a full-year subscription. It is also important to note that if you do not possess an Amazon Prime account, the data from your conference call will arrive in two to three business days.

4. Disney Chat

The only corporation on this list that is not typically tech-oriented, Disney surprised many fans and investors alike when they announced Disney Chat in July of this year. Marketed primarily toward a younger audience than the aforementioned platforms, Disney Chat presents the viewer with a cartoony and colorful interface. Luckily for the software’s many customers, it is completely free and only requires that you sign over the rights to your life story to Disney. Disney Chat also offers multiple unique features, such as numerous Disney minigames to play during a meeting and many hilarious voice changers. Signing up for Disney Chat also qualifies you for coupons on Disney merchandise, including Goofy silly straws and Star Wars M&M fan tubes. Disney Chat has recently been the subject of controversy due to several poor design choices on their platform. Every Disney Chat session requires the attendance of a Disney staff member, usually either a pimpled teenager or an overweight, older man. These staff members must keep their mic on at all times and personally conduct every meeting in order to ensure a pleasant experience for all patrons. There have been rumors of these attendees behaving inappropriately in front of members of the call, including swearing, drinking, smoking, and snorting. There are also no cybersecurity measures provided for Disney Chat users; losses of data, identity theft, rampant Zoom bombing, and a feeling of being watched were all reported by customers. One kindergarten teacher who tried Disney Chat for her class reported her experience to be “absolutely horrific.” Disney has denied all these allegations and published data indicating that Disney Chat has produced $16 billion in revenue this last quarter alone.

5. Comcast Call

This list would not be complete without the conferencing service offered by notoriously bad cable provider Comcast. Seeing as they’ve been suffering financially as of late, Comcast has taken a giant leap into the future by offering conferencing software to the world. Keeping in line with their company mission statement, “Piss off,” Comcast Call provides a remarkably bad experience. Signing up for Comcast Call online requires answering a 24-page questionnaire, followed by a lengthy exchange with a virtual assistant over the phone. Once you have managed that, a Comcast repairman will arrive sometime in the next three weeks to install Comcast Call onto your computer. It is important to note that while you schedule and confirm an appointment for your Comcast Call installation in both your questionnaire and your phone call, the repairman will pay no heed to the date and time you’ve provided. After the technician arrives at your house, they will spend at least seven hours installing the Comcast Call software. Though installing the program is as simple as downloading a file from a flash drive, the repairman will have enormous difficulty in doing so and will refuse any help you offer them. After the maintenance worker leaves your house, the Comcast Call software should be ready to run, but only if you manage to solve the innumerable issues the repairman has incurred on your device. Customers have reported that, following the program installation, their devices have switched to Greek as their primary language, changed their OS to Windows Vista, ceased to recognize their home WiFi router, and became incredibly greasy and sticky. Since Comcast servers are constantly overloaded with traffic, there is a maximum of five meetings happening on the platform at any time. When Comcast CEO Brian L. Roberts was asked what advantage Comcast Call could possibly have over Zoom, he simply shrugged.

6. Tesla Talk

The brainchild of a manchild, Tesla Talk proffers the most bewildering experience of them all. Though the software was specialized for usage in self-driving Tesla automobiles, it was adapted for Linux by a self-proclaimed “Reddit Technocrat.” In a tweet engineered by a sniveling social media professional and posted to Elon Musk’s account, the platform was announced as follows: “Our new conferencing software lets you make memes while you’re in band class! Or while you’re driving a brand new eco-friendly Tesla Model S that totally wasn’t manufactured with child labor! I’m not like those other old billionaires! Would any of those lame-o’s host a meme review video? I’m young, down-to-earth, and relevant! Buy my cars please!!!” Apparently, this tweet originally had an image of “Matrix” actor Keanu Reeves attached, but it has since been removed, and the correlation with the content of the tweet is unknown. Tesla Talk seems to be marketed toward a teenage audience, yet does so in a highly bizarre manner. The main menu of the program is decorated in a manner that can be best compared to the horror vacui of a medieval depiction of the Last Judgement. Littered across the screen is a vast collection of pop culture references, including characters from Star Wars, Minecraft, The Office, and Family Guy, as well as a whopping 28 separate portrayals of Keanu Reeves in his various roles (note to self: investigate further connections to this actor across mainstream media; possible cult?). Tesla Talk offers many features in line with other Zoom clones, with a strange uncalled-for twist: there seems to be a built-in method of collaborating on a single document with other members of the call. The tools for this portion seem geared toward photo-editing and include strange “stickers” to add to a communal image. There is also an option to “react” to something that occurs in the conference using peculiar symbols, including a poorly-drawn bald man and a disturbing frog-humanoid. This steaming mess of a platform seems wholly unusable and may be the most garish bid for attention in this whole ghastly collection.

Before I conclude this brief tour, I would like to make you, the willing and contractual participant, aware of some extraneous information. This is far from a conclusive list of all the Zoom bootlegs out there. I excluded many small companies that solely work in this field due to the fact that I am too lazy to research them. Many of them serve only a niche position in the market and are only different from Zoom aesthetically, making them uninteresting to the general audience. The majority of them will likely be out of business by the time you finish reading this article due to the fact that there is no massive business conglomeration behind them to keep them afloat. The grand irony of this entire situation is that Zoom is also a bootleg. There is no trademark on the video conferencing service, and I would argue that every service after Skype is completely unoriginal. The only thing that elevated Zoom to its popularity is its simple user interface and perhaps its catchy name. Go forth and Zoom!