Zoom has blown past more established competitors such as Microsoft, Cisco, and even Google to quickly dominate the web conferencing space -- so much so that people use the word Zoom as a generic term for videoconference in exactly the same way they say "Google" when they mean search. Even well-publicized security concerns haven't slowed the company's rise.
How did the company dominate its industry so quickly? The reasons are ridiculously simple -- and enlightening. Unlike all the other videoconferencing providers, or at least all the ones I've tried, Zoom seems able to look at its service from its customers' point of view. That's led to some features that mean Zoom just works better for many users.
1. You don't have to download anything or sign up for anything.
Soon after Washington State issued its stay-at-home order, I held a virtual birthday party for my husband via Zoom. I'd attended videoconferences on Webex, BlueJeans, and Microsoft Teams, but I never seriously considered anything but Zoom.
Partly that's because I knew from experience that Zoom is user-friendly and reliable. But, more to the point, I wanted people to come to the party. I did not want my invitations to say, "Please come to my party but first you have to download some software," and I didn't want them to say, "Please come to my party but first you have to sign up for Gmail (or Hotmail or Facebook)." I wanted them to say, "Please come to my party by clicking this link." Anything that makes it harder for people to attend a meeting is a drawback.
2. You can see everyone.
For group discussions, gallery view (sometimes referred to as "Hollywood Squares" or "Brady Bunch") is a game changer. Otherwise, during a lively conversation, the screen will flit quickly from one speaker to another and wind up making you dizzy.
Even though Zoom was far from the first videoconferencing provider, it was the first to have this insight into what the customer experience might be like. These days, of course, the other major players all have a comparable feature, having scrambled to add it.
3. Test computer audio.
It may be silly, but this one little feature is the reason I'll never turn my back on Zoom. Before you join a meeting, Zoom shows you what your video looks like. Other web conferencing software does that too, but then Zoom goes one step further and invites you to test your speakers and your microphone right before you step into a meeting.
That's important because in our somewhat rural neighborhood, even our premium-level internet service can be a bit funky. Sometimes I join a web meeting only to find that my voice sounds like incomprehensible squeaks. Other times, it sounds just fine. It's impossible to predict which it will be at any given meeting.
With a Zoom competitor, I'd have no choice but to use a phone connection, with all the audio problems that can create. But because Zoom lets me test my audio every time I join a meeting, I can find out without disrupting the conversation if my audio will be a problem, and I can close the meeting window and then open it again, which often solves it.
Software is usually created by engineers working in buildings with robust internet pipelines, and it may never occur to them that someone using the products they build might have a less-than-perfect internet connection. That's the only reason I can think of that none of the other web conferencing providers offer this little feature. (Some of them do let you hold a test meeting, but since my audio is different for every meeting I join, that's not much help.)
Why were the engineers at Zoom able to anticipate a common problem like unreliable audio when those at, say, Google were not? I have no idea. But it's made a loyal customer out of me.