Dear Zoom: Love Letter or Dear John Letter?

DearZoom Tiner

Dear Zoom,

We began using Zoom three years ago as a corporate replacement for Skype. The technical staff and our faculty and staff absolutely loved it. Slowly, we acquired more and more licenses. Then in March of 2020, COVID hit, and Zoom went from an essential tool to a business-critical application. And that is when my frustration with it started.

Zoom had to deal with a couple of large security issues during the winter/spring of 2020. One was the bug on Macs that would allow people to take over the webcam and microphone. Then, there was the “Zoom bombing” that started occurring. Both of these gained attention in the IT security world, but also in the general media. Zoom’s reaction was to make significant changes in its security, which required pushing out updates. And push out updates the company did — and continue to do. Its website currently lists 60 updates from April 16 to today (Oct. 1).

In late April, early May, Zoom announced a new version was coming out, Zoom 5.0. To successfully join and manage meetings, everyone had to upgrade to the latest version. Zoom gave about one month’s notice for this! While this would have been fine if Zoom were a small app that some people use, it caused massive amounts of work, training and communication, particularly in the higher ed arena. However, we lived with it because we needed it to work, and there were significant security updates.

Then, around the middle of July, Zoom announced that it would require that all accounts have either “password to join” enabled, or that a waiting room was required. This change was going to go into effect in September. Again, in higher ed, we had to scramble. September is THE WORST time for this type of change in higher ed. Classes are just starting again, and we are trying to figure out how to teach remotely, with Zoom being a critical tool. Making the change weeks after we started would be painful. We decided, as many of our colleagues did, to force this change upon ourselves early. So, again, we went through a round of communication, configurations and training. We were forced to do this work when we had many other things we could have been doing. Then, a few weeks ago, we got a casual note from Zoom: Due to your feedback, we have decided not to enforce the passcode or waiting room. Great, but all the work has already been done. Yet, while writing this blog, the notice that it will happen is still there in reviewing the Zoom webpage. Oh well, we have it enabled anyway.

Ah, OK, despite all that, the school year is off to a great start. We even found a gem in Zoom that we didn’t know existed. If you record to the cloud, you can set up Zoom to transcribe your recording. About one hour after the recording ends, you get emailed a link to the recording, with transcription that goes along with the video. That was great, as we had faculty asking about those capabilities. Man, we love Zoom!

Then, on Sept. 1, Zoom put out another update, and this update turns on noise suppression automatically. Within hours, the email lists for educational networks start going nuts. Why are my Zoom recordings’ audio mumbled all of a sudden? Why can’t remote students hear us well anymore? The AV people on these lists quickly pointed out the issue. If you have multiple mics in a room and they are picking up shuffling papers, movement or other noise, it starts to affect the audio of the mic you want to have picking up the sound. Here we go again, another training and communication scramble. We had to reach out to faculty we knew were recording with Zoom and have them change these settings on their computers, or their classroom computers, as this was a per user, per computer setting.

Then we have all the various other Zoom updates. They seem like they are coming in at a pace of about one every two weeks at this point. Thankfully, these updates are not required, but they tend to make small changes that affect our users, such as minor changes in the user interface.

So, here is my plea to Zoom if anyone there is listening. I love your product and would recommend it to anyone. It is the best videoconferencing product we have ever used, and we use many of the features. We use it, literally, hundreds of times per day. However, I ask you to please understand that this product became business-critical around March 2020. In higher ed, in particular, we can not operate unless Zoom is functioning correctly. So, please think carefully through every update you put out, what it means not only for the person sitting in their home office but what it means for the classroom as well. Think about not only what it means for the tech-savvy person who is moving to remote work, but also for the professor who is struggling to figure out how to change their teaching methods after years. If I may, I would also recommend that perhaps you institute a higher education advisory board that could advise you on the timing and requirements of the changes and updates you are working on. After all, higher education has to be one of your largest verticals.

Sincerely

Scott Tiner