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Zoom adding advertisements to the free tier of its service (zoom.us)
342 points by JumpCrisscross 77 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 220 comments

I feel like for every business there exists threshold where PMs get convinced that selling ads isn't just a free-tier business model, but rather that any other revenue generation method sits within the Pareto frontier that an ads tier defines.

I once heard an ads account PM put it this way: "If you have enough money to buy a no-ads tier, someone will pay more to put an ad there"

This definitely happened for cable TV and satellite radio— both started life as a paid, ad-free alternative, but the promise of a premium market that moneyed individuals had paid to escape to was just too enticing.

To a lesser extent you see it with magazines too, especially in the fashion space, where brands don't want to be in a "free" magazine, so the magazine has to charge a cover price, but they practically give away subscriptions since the cover price is not where they're making money.

> This definitely happened for cable TV

I keep seeing this, but in the US this isn't really true. Cable TV was originally sold as a way to get all the surrounding broadcast TV stations in to your home with near perfect signal quality without needing an antenna. This meant you would get all the ads those broadcast networks aired. Sure, cable networks did not inject additional ads, but there were still ads. It took a while before premium cable-only channels arrived, some of which touted being ad-free. But even then many of those premium channels had advertising from the beginning.

Ads were on cable TV since the get go.

... and more channels.

In the dawn of time, also known as my childhood, there were 2 channels. Then 3. TV's had dials and it was my job, like so many other youngest children, to turn them. Then cable came and there were a lot of channels. So many channels you needed the newspaper's TV schedule to figure out what to watch. No more flipping between 2 or 3 channels hoping for something better. Planned viewing had arrived. No more sitting by the TV, spinning through channels, and getting clouted for spinning to fast because you'll break it! And finally, freeing children everywhere from the tyranny of the dial, remote control! No longer chained to the TV, children could return to lounging on the comfy family room chesterfields.

Never forget that cable, and the TV remotes it spawned, freed millions of children from spinning TV dials!

I remember when we got a fancy TV with a…wired…remote.

It was amazing.

Of course the wire was about 2 feet too short. So it was still my job to sit on the floor and in the middle of the room to be the “wireless” portion of the remote. But still, was so much better than having to walk up every 5 minutes (my dad loved making me flip channels during commercials, even though often commercials were often synced between abc, nbc, and cbs). But then came PBS

We had a VCR with a wired remote and oddly, the cable that connected it was something like 40' long. You could almost stand outside and start a movie. Thanks JCPenny. :)

> So it was still my job to sit on the floor and in the middle of the room to be the “wireless” portion of the remote

Those were the days

(the archie bunker theme)


My family was an eclectic mix of Sanford and son and Hee Haw. But yeah. Those were the days.

Now that I don’t have cable but DO have an antenna (and Plex) I still like reruns of mash, gomer pile, Andy Griffith to fall asleep to etc. I wish they would throw Sanford and son in the mix!

I think you're too quick to discredit the claim, perhaps its not quite as strong as people make it seem but... This article written in 1981 from the NY times titled "Will Cable TV Be Invaded By Commercials" would somewhat disagree with you. I think makes the situation as clear to understand as possible:


People were assuming because they were paying for Television there would be no (or at least less) ads. The article then states that there was $45 million in cable advertising vs $11 billion in traditional. I think those numbers alone make it pretty clear advertising was not at the top of the (at the time) nascent industry's mind. And, while this is only a guess its probably safe to assume the bulk of that $45 million went to at most a handful of "innovative" (vomits in mouth) cable companies.

The first phrase in that article says "Although cable television was never conceived of as television without commercial interruption" which 100% supports my position. The original "cable TV" was to get all the broadcast channels near by in perfect quality without an antenna, thus having ads. There were ads on "cable TV" from the beginning , many consumers just assumed it wasn't there. It also acknowledges the rest of my point in stating "Indeed, even pay television, once assumed to be secure from commercial interests, is attracting some attention as a potential vehicle for advertising." Note that essentially some channels were paid extras which did not originally have ads, while other channels like CNN, USA, and RCTV did have ads from the get go.

And yeah, advertising revenues weren't nearly as huge for cable networks at the beginning. The first cable networks started operations in the 50s, and you're sharing an article written in '81 pretty much showcasing that there were only a few cable-only TV stations at the time. At the beginning there were zero cable-only TV stations, and that was how it was for about 30 years. All channels you got on cable were just the broadcast stations. Many years later they started adding cable-only stations with some of those stations having advertising and some of them without.

The first real cable-only TV channel was HBO, which was without ads. The second real cable-only TV station was WTBS, which had ads (it was a nearly nation-wide rebroadcast of Ted Turner's broadcast TV station, so only semi-only-cable?) and started on cable in 1976. After that there was Christian Broadcasting Network which was ad-free. In 1979 we got Nickeloden and ESPN (ads), in 1980 we got CNN and USA (ads).


I remember reading that article!

I think there is confusion with the original (very large) satellite dish services. Those were marketed as ad-free.

Ads were part of cable and satellite TV from the start, but they have "invaded" more recently in the menus.

And even for streaming services, the rationale is "we can still call it ad-free, if the only preroll ads we run are for our own shows!" - which doesn't make them any less an advertisement!

If anything, it's the most measurable of (non-interactive) video ads, since the viewer's future engagement with the advertised show (correcting for the baseline expected viewership among subscribers not shown that ad) can be attributed to the advertisement itself.

And if retention can then be attributed to engagement, there's a monetary value for that ad space, which goes back to the grandparent post's sentiment: "someone will pay more to put an ad there."

> And even for streaming services, the rationale is "we can still call it ad-free, if the only preroll ads we run are for our own shows!" - which doesn't make them any less an advertisement!

I don't think I can agree with this. While I don't like pre-roll mini-trailers (or even full trailers), the fact that I've chosen to pay for the service is a pretty strong hint that I'd like to know what offerings they have. The obvious alternative is to provide me with good discovery tools so that I never miss anything myself. I prefer that, but I don't think that the pre-rolls really violate a "no advertising" model.

It's certainly better than NPR/PBS's interpretation of "no advertising", which I was told in the 90s is essentially just "no quality adjectives".

What you see over time is that as products mature, they add advertising and then saturate it. The reason is filling your product with ads kills retention, so you can’t do this early on.

The interesting part to this is that once the competition is heavily saturated with ads, having no ads gives you a distinctive edge over them.

The thing that interests me the most is how ads can significantly degrade the quality of the product itself. This is really apparent with Amazon, where their ad platform not only pushed up the visibility of very low quality products but also made their seller ecosystem dependent on them. Amazon’s search results are their content, which are now ads. In order to outbid competitors, you need to increase your margins, which you do by selling a shittier product. I suspect we will see a similar thing happen to Apple’s App Store over time.

> I suspect we will see a similar thing happen to Apple’s App Store over time.

Already the terrible curation makes it hard to find any quality content in Apple's App Store. (I'll never understand why it's so hard to get a search for the exact name of an app to return that app first.) I shudder to imagine how bad it could be if they were incentivised to make it bad.

I've always suspected, but never can confirm, that this incentivization is already the case: the reason why app search seems so bad is because revenue trumps any other aspect of relevance, and spammy apps generate more revenue out of unsuspecting users.

I thought the same as I was typing it, but I was going for "never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence". It wasn't that Apple App Store search quality gradually declined, as you would expect from a slide towards evil; as far as I know, it was terrible right out of the gate.

> "we can still call it ad-free, if the only preroll ads we run are for our own shows!"

Preroll ads are only there because they haven't found advertisers willing to pay them enough yet. It does mean they have the infrastructure there, waiting and ready, and ad / data engineers getting data from ad viewership and rudimentary conversion numbers, which they can then use to sell ads.

It'll be there soon.

They're also experimenting with a free tier:


> streaming services, the rationale is "we can still call it ad-free, if the only preroll ads we run are for our own shows!"

At least on my services, they are just short trailers, never annoying ads like Progressive's. And if I'm not interested, there's always a Skip button. I'm paying for this service, I want to know what upcoming shows are coming. I don't mind if this helps with their internal metrics.

Now I do object to the actual 5-10 min of ads I subjected to in the movie theater.

> At least on my services, they are just short trailers, never annoying ads like Progressive's. And if I'm not interested, there's always a Skip button. I'm paying for this service, I want to know what upcoming shows are coming. I don't mind if this helps with their internal metrics.

Amazon Prime paid channel subscriptions don't let you skip the previews for that channel. (At least, that is true for Paramount+.)

And it didn't happen with Netflix.

There's a market for subscriptions. Unfortunately you have to provide a really fucking great product. And most of these companies don't.

Not yet, but some other streaming services have added ads to the paid service, and made the ad-free version more expensive (Hulu, HBO, C More)

This is exactly why regulation is needed - not to ban ads, but to curtail the noxious effects of them (privacy invasion, lack of liability for malicious ads) to tip the balance back the other way.

And if they accidentally trip and ban ads, all the better.

There are some for whom the paid tier is "get rid of ads". YouTube, Spotify.

In YT videos will still have "sponsored content" regardless. If they can't make YT display their ads, they will buy off the content creators. Ad industry is just so infectious.


It's also known that the extensions are also bought and start displaying ads, or worse, double charge the ad industry to let them escape their block (like once upon a time ABP did).

That has happened before, but very rarely, and I highly doubt will ever happen to SponsorBlock.

> That has happened before, but very rarely, and I highly doubt will ever happen to SponsorBlock.

Why do you doubt it? I've read that extension creators are constantly bombarded with offers to package just a little malware in their extension; surely the same is true of ads. If you're just a hobbyist developer—and that's where the best extensions come from—surely it's too much to expect that you'll resist that pressure forever.

SponsorBlock is completely tied to my real identity, why would I want to destroy my reputation for relatively little gain.

It's about neither your extension nor your incentives, and you can be the nicest person on earth (and I have no reason to believe otherwise, great work!), but we are all mortals in the end, and with the automatically updating extensions, it's too hard to say what will happen in the long term (who takes over eventually?). Also a parallel risk which has less to do with the ad industry is the extension getting hijacked.

So there is always a significant risk even the author declines all the offers for cashing out.

But again, your awesome extension in which you poured so many hours is not the problem, it's just affected by the problem.

It's definitely nothing against you; indeed, I thank you and everyone like you who makes these tools that make my browsing experience so much better.

I assume that everyone who makes useful extensions like this does so out of good will. But I also assume that it is possible for a good person to tire of maintaining a piece of software, and want to pass on control, and to allow themselves to see the upside of an appealing and lucrative offer and believe that the worst won't come. And I can't blame a person who does this—they certainly don't owe me anything.

Into this discussion I will drop the following points:

1. The creator of the VLC media player was apparently offered "tens of millions" of euros to insert ads. Thus, if your software is sufficiently widely used, that is the kind of temptation you may eventually face.

2. He said no. So there do exist people who will resist such temptation.

Citation: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15372048 and the link chain therefrom

VLC is GPLv2, saying yes would have been a short term annoyance for the community in exchange of him cashing in.

SponsorBlock is open source. https://github.com/ajayyy/SponsorBlock

It's a great solution, but it has a big limitation: you can't use it with the official YouTube apps for phones and TV's. You end up having to resort to 'hacked'/third-party clients like Vanced, with all the risks to your Google account that entails.

Doesn't work on a phone or Chromecast, unfortunately.

Even the Spotify paid tier has ads in podcasts. There's no escape.

Aren’t those native ads though? Or is Spotify making money off them too?

native ads - kind of sums up the ludicrousness of the adtech industry… “they are not real ads because they are NATIVE!”

It's a mix. As a premium spotify customer, I still see spotify-injected (skippable) ads.

Never encountered these, what were you listening to?

Same here. Spotify claims it's the podcast producers' doing when ads are inserted this way. It still miffs me. One of the conditions of being a paid content provider for Spotify should be that you provide an ad-free experience for premium subscribers.

Really? Not me.

I've seen opportunities to subscribe to podcasts for $$, which irritated me, but that's it.

This can't be right.

They are, and I think that Spotify should work to ban them. If I'm listening to a podcast on Spotify, then presumably the podcast creator is already getting my money (indirectly, via Spotify) and therefore I should get an ad-free version.

This gets to a question of what’s an ad. Take EDM DJs. Could they advertise an upcoming festival they’re playing at, even though the main purpose of the podcast is playing music?

> Could they *advertise* an upcoming festival

Yeah, that's an ad. It's even in the sentence.

Spotify allows it, I've contacted their support team about it. They claim that as long as the creator is the one inserting the ads that they allow it.

YouTube as well, if you're counting creators taking money to promote things.

(Disclosure: I work for Google, speaking only for myself)

It also has constant ads for podcasts in the app, as well as modal popups for things it wants to promote, like new albums and concerts. They are definitely violating the spirit of "no ads"

That's not Spotify's fault. The ads are added by podcast host as a part of the show itself. You will have ads regardless of where you listen to your podcasts.

I suspect that Spotify's ad strategy is to make them as obnoxious as possible, just to get you to buy the subscription. For me, the ads they played made it seem like their data science were either completely inept, or extremely evil.

Hulu has ads in the "no ads" service too.

That's obnoxious

+ product placement in shows and films,

+ selling information gleaned from consumption habits (e.g. song choice on Spotify, etc.)

Don't necessarily have to target on the platform itself.

At sufficient scale anything free ceases to be so and anything cheap starts to get expensive. This certainly applies to bandwidth. I assume either the free tier was starting to get significantly expensive or it was simply so large that the potential ad revenue was too large a carrot to ignore. I can't say which.

But I feel like Zoom is missing an opportunity here. I just went through the exercise of googling "zoom pricing" and... I'm confused. I still don't know how much it costs.

Twitch can largely be credited with the model of supporting creators with monthly subscriptions. Obviously they didn't invent the monthly subscription but they made it "mainstream" (within the context of Twitch viewers) such that many creators can support themselves this way with audience sizes that aren't large enough to be supported by ad revenue.

The point is that Twitch created a user behaviour of supporting creators with sufficient scale to matter.

So with Zoom, the pricing should be transparent and obvious. Obviously you're going to have the company plans that cover all participants. It probably shouldn't be "unlimited" as those are your most valuable customers and the most willing to pay.

But the missed opportunity here is to incentivize individuals to pay with features that might matter to them. I'm not sure what those are but in the very least, paid users should receive no ads. Make this $5/month. Lots of people will pay that if you toss in a few premium features.

Ad-supporting free services is so pervasive because it's effective but it's also lazy. With the rise of remote work, there are a lot of people who will gladly pay some small monthly fee to make their life easier even if their employer won't. Build user behaviour.

They could always work on making the system peer-to-peer. You will never get 100% of the way there because of some overly restrictive networks, but you can get the majority of users (especially those on home connections without enterprise firewalls/etc) to connect directly making it sustainable enough (the last 10% can just be subsidized by paying users and/or by ads - it could literally be a "fix your network for P2P to work, or watch ads to pay for TURN relays).

P2P multiparty videoconferencing just isn't realistic outside of tech demos. In a call of 20 participants, someone with a typical 720p webcam would be transmitting more than 50Mbit/s, which doesn't sound like a lot when ISPs market so-called "1Gbit fibre", but in fact is more than a lot of residential connections and home Wi-Fi can reliably push without unacceptable loss/delay/jitter.

A product built with this architecture could not deliver the reliability and performance that Zoom delivers with the variety of connectivity quality that its users have.

I wonder if WebRTC will ever support Multicast IP (or maybe explicit multi-unicast) so that you only need to upload one copy of your signal.

Something tells me the various consumer routers out there wouldn't know how to deal with the traffic...

consumer routers are not the main problem with that (they might even support multicast, because various ISPs use it to distribute TV channels) - the public internet generally has no way of handling it.

WebRTC can support it all they want, but to a first approximation, Multicast doesn't work over the open internet, so it won't help outside of corporate videoconference (which generally runs OK, because corporate networks are mostly wired and often overprovisioned or easier to provision than homes)

do we not remember the disaster that was p2p skype

Not sure if you would get many personal users to pay when there is Meet, Teams, Discord and FaceTime. IIRC they all don’t have ads.

> ... or it was simply so large that the potential ad revenue was too large a carrot to ignore.

I'm always inclined to think this is the case. Investors are always wanting to know how you're going to increase returns THIS quarter.

Knee jerk reaction here because I’m a layperson in this area…

> anything cheap starts to get expensive. This certainly applies to bandwidth.

This breaks the basic supply-demand rule. It’s also happening more often. Why are our business models so messed uo?

Each unit of bandwidth is probably getting cheaper, but if you end up giving away a ton of it, it is still a massive expense.

Modern advertising enable predatory pricing without significant (or any) financial cost to the predator. There are fewer (or no) protections against predatory pricing in most markets because classical economics assumed that businesses would fail if they deprived themselves of revenue. That is no longer the case.

When it comes to bandwidth, supply is largely fixed and the suppliers (ISPs, AWS) are corrupt or would rather just collect rents. It's incredibly difficult for a new company to make inroads as well (even for a company like Google, which seems to have paused its Google Fiber rollout)

A deal with Admob or another ad provider will mean they make pure profit (no bandwidth cost) on all free users!

Imagine all those bored users in forced meetings! They would click on anything to kill the boredom! :p

Better, when you click, it triggers a game to kill time. But the game engages you with the product.

Evil genius.

you are on to something!

There have been meetings where I would happily click though a slide deck of ads.

When you put it like that, it's genius

Punch the monkey to win an iPhone!

> There is one thing we want to make very clear: as noted in our Privacy Statement, we will not use meeting, webinar, or messaging content (specifically, audio, video, files, and messages) for any marketing, promotions, or third-party advertising purposes.

Maybe the most important sentence in the whole announcement.

Meaning everything else is on the table:

- names of participants, and their ad profiles

- meeting title, time, length

Now you are getting ads for dogfood because your coworker has a new pet.

What if you and everyone replying here get a paid version or just use Google Meet?

I don’t understand why all the negativity comes out when a company decides to stop subsidizing all the engineering, bandwidth, storage, servers, .. costs that goes into a product.

> Now you are getting ads for dogfood because your coworker has a new pet

Or ads targeting key messages right before your team meets with a new vendor.

or because the meeting was titled "Senior Dev Weekly: Should we eat our own dogfood?"

For now.

Honestly, privacy policies from ad supported companies are worthless. The pressure to break them and share that info is so great that I suspect most just quietly give in to it.

As we know from multiple experiences, what Zoom says about privacy and the reality of it are very much separate.

> Company creates a super successful product that is very user friendly > Said product skyrockets and makes the company more money than they ever should have reasonably expected > SV mindset of perpetual growth kicks in and corporate greed figures out ways to extract money even though they already fucking made it > Product quality degrades over time

It's like clockwork. Yeah I'm sure that it costs a ton of money to maintain their product to scale. But you've gotta be kidding me that they didn't already make the money they should have needed to support this growth if you look at their net worth vs pre-pandemic and post-pandemic.

This is only on a web page shown after the meeting has ended, not part of the video software itself.

I don't see what the big deal is.

I dont see how you could not see that Ads are consuming every facet of our lives.

For now.

Exactly. Once they get that first hit of sweet, sweet ad revenue, there will inevitably be pressure to grow it, and then grow it faster. Zoom does not strike me as the kind of company that will be able to resist the temptation to insert ever more obnoxious ads, as long as it leads to revenue growth. (That said, they don't have to support a free tier at all, and it's not free to run, so I don't completely begrudge them looking for ways to monetize it beyond just Pro upgrades).

I’m imagining a future update that increases their ad revenue by 10% due to a bug that randomly ends calls prematurely, thus creating more ad views.

Later on, a precocious junior engineer discovers the bug, but isn’t allowed to fix it due to the revenue hit.

Unless it's an open-source/self-hosted application, you're always at mercy of code owners.

I imagine it will become a good malware vector.

I don't understand how.

It is an ad on a page in the browser. Don't many other companies (Google, Facebook, etc) manage to do that without becoming vectors for malware?

They manage, but they're not bulletproof. One such instance:


The linked article talks about misleading ads that let people download malicious apks. This is no different than scam emails with malicious .exes, or "please reset your WhatsApp password here" messages, ...etc. In other words, it doesn't demonstrate why web ads are any more susceptible to being malware vectors when compared to email, messaging apps, or social media (basically anything with user-generated/third-party content that allows text).

Which is why it feels unfair to me to single out Zoom's addition of ads to their free tier for being a malware vector.

Yeah, I agree that it's overblown.

> Don't many other companies (Google, Facebook, etc) manage to do that without becoming vectors for malware?

This all depends on targeting (as an HN user you're unlikely to be targeted by them as there are higher-value ads that match your profile) but at the bottom of the targeting barrel there are absolutely ads for scams and/or malware.

I think it is a bit different when it will be seen by employees as a part of internal tooling. After the meeting they see a banner "Important points from the presentation" or "The mandatory new tool to fight malware." or even "2021-11-sales.xls" and I guarantee people will click on it. Of course you can blame it on companies saving money for more or less sensible reasons by not paying for their tools and on uneducated employees, but it will happen.

Hmm. If you trust users to discern between malicious and non-malicious emails (that can contain things like "the mandatory new tool to fight malware" as you say), I think that implies you trust users to discern between malicious ads and non-malicious ads.

And I don't see any reason that the spam/malicious-content filtering tools used to filter email would not be used to filter ads (with appropriate modifications of course).

So this leaves me unconvinced that Zoom web ads are any more susceptible to being malware vectors as compared to ads anywhere else (or other tools that host user-generated/third party text, like email, messaging, and social media).

It doesn't have to be more suspectible. It is however one more thing to worry about.

One that already shows up in a browser a few minutes into the meeting, even though I used the native app to connect to it. I consider it an ad for the program I'm already using, which is just bonkers, so I close it reflexively. I'm using the paid version, but if I weren't I would still close it as soon as I see it, so the ad would be wasted on me.

It matters because kids use this software. Who knows what will pop up

Protecting the kid against immoral or chocking things is a, IMO, not as important as not exposing them to constant brain washing from ads.

If I have to chose between naked people and a coke ad, I'd rather have the kids see sex. Honestly, the former never had a negative impact on me, but the later really had.

This is the kind of absolutely unreasonable opinion that could only gain traction on the internet.

Sex is one thing, but porn isn't sex.

It's like comparing coffee and meth.


Imagine about to do a meeting, 30 second commercial comes on about some restaurant, well let's go get food.

Side note, at least now it's easy to make your own video setup, providers like Twilio/OpenTok, so... pay or set it up/pay yourself idk.

I get it though, it's like YouTube vs. Vimeo... costs money to facilitate that magic that just works/have the audience.

The internet was supposed to be better than what TV in the 80s became.

It’s more interactive now, but it’s starting to feel like a rerun lately.

It is better. People are free to write software, pay for bandwidth and computing costs, and content creation, and then distribute it for free.

People no longer have to depend on coaxial cable owners or satellite owners or TV airwaves owners to distribute their content.

Said who?

travisgriggs, his username is placed above his message.

I can't wait to see a 30 second video ad for an erectile dysfunction drug in the middle of a job interview.

Seems more like an opportunity. "Hey, how did they know you're interviewing someone who can solve hard problems?"

Probably a red flag if the company you're interviewing with is using the Zoom free tier ;)

I have a feeling that this is probably more of an upgrade call to action, and they probably don't expect material revenue from ads.

Even at $5 CPM (high for a web banner), zoom will make... half a penny per meeting, before incurring multiple cents in bandwidth costs.

> Even at $5 CPM (high for a web banner), zoom will make... half a penny per meeting, before incurring multiple cents in bandwidth costs.

Zoom says they have over 3.3 trillion meeting-minutes as of October 2020: Let's assume they are counting each party to the meeting separately, and that "free tier" represents a mere 10% of their traffic: A $1 CPM rotated every five minutes is $660m every year.

Ad serving (technology) is cheap if done smartly: I could serve a billion video ads a month for around $150k/pcm in 2013.

I would expect not only material revenue, but material growth as well.

It’ll be more than $5 CPM for an ad where you know the consumer:

- Has their audio enabled and speakers on

- Has personalized data and history associated with their account

- Has a camera aimed at them to detect eyeball ad tracking

The ad can be a silent video ad permanantly playing at the side of the screen. One ad every 30 seconds should become quite a lot of ad views by the end of a long meeting.

Oh great, that's exactly what we need for meeting engagement and zoom fatigue: distracting sidebar ads.

Maybe it will encourage people to giddy up and finish just to get away from the ads.

Readers should be reminded that Zoom also censors some Zoom meetings, preventing them from being held. This may not be very wide-spread, but it does happen:

* Panel discussion with Palestinian activist Leyla Khaled: https://theintercept.com/2020/11/14/zoom-censorship-leila-kh...

( and see also https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2020/10/27/zoom-fa... )

* Chinese opposition activists censored at the behest of China: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23498664

Peer to Peer WebRTC with https://meet.jit.si/ should get a bit busier now!

Jitsi Meet (in common with other WebRTC videoconferencing systems in common use) is only P2P when there are exactly 2 people in the meeting. (And even then it may need to use a server depending on the type of connectivity you have.)

P2P videoconferencing beyond a few participants isn't very practical in the real world, due to the bandwidth requirements rapidly exceeding what a typical user's connection can reliably transmit without unacceptable loss/delay/jitter.

Jitsi or any other p2p system is limited when more than 2 people are connected in the same room.

Given, that unlike many advertising supported services, you can pay Zoom and remove ads, I fail to see a problem with this.

It’s the same as seeing ads on a chat platform. Why bother? There are plenty of alternatives with no ads. Developers won’t fall for this, but I guess your local church group won’t know any better.

Are there actually viable alternatives with similar quality and latency factors to Zoom?

Last I checked, the competitors, whether free or not, all had meaningful downsides (quality, latency, self-hosted, inextricably bundled to another system, etc) with the only upside being “it’s not Zoom.”

Honest question. I’m sure the land has changed a lot in the last 6-12 months.

I've had positive experiences with both Microsoft Teams (Skype) video and with Google Meet in the last 6 months. In terms of "stands alone easily," Google Meet has a pretty great experience for the casual user, although it does have some confusingly implemented UX (for screen-sharing, admitting-users, etc). The UX is easy for tech-oriented folks but your grandma might need some training.

The one I was kinda surprised wasn't any good, even for audio-only, was Discord. Not that it fits your criteria anyway.

n of 1 and all that, I don't have any supporting data.

I don't believe anyone is a casual user of video chat anymore. It's like calling someone a casual telephone user or a casual car user. It's fundamental to daily life.

I disagree, on video chat, telephone, AND car usage. Some folks (often (although certainly not always) older with a lower tolerance for UI changes) just don't use them very often.

My mother, for example, still prefers correspondence via snail mail. She has learned to tolerate FaceTime, but Zoom is always a bit of a hassle and requires a separate phone-call to her landline to help her walk through the steps to get connected. I don't think she's unusual. It's a big world, with lots of kinds of people in it.

"Infrequent" is not the same as "casual." If anything it's the reverse because you avoid using it unless it is literally a matter of life or death.

You are majorly in a tech (a.k.a HN) bubble if you think that. People whose jobs have been 100% in person the entire pandemic are not using video chat for work, so that leaves family and friends. Many people just talk on the phone or see people in person.

I'm in my 20s, work full time, and have attended fewer than a dozen zoom meetings ever, none of them for work.

I haven’t had too many issues with Google Meet, for example.

I'm a happy Discord user. I'm sure now someone will list all the downsides of Discord (proprietary, target demographic, etc) but I'm just answering the question as asked.

> Are there actually viable alternatives with similar quality and latency factors to Zoom?

Yes. Google Meet is just as easy to use, and Jitsi is even easier with zero signup required.

Does Google record video or audio or keep transcriptions or anything of what's said? I've always felt like a differentiating factor is privacy, not just comparing free / easy / quality etc.

> Given, that unlike many advertising supported services, you can pay Zoom and remove ads

If you are an enterprise, yes. For individual usage - like, for example, hosting a virtual beer night with friends - you have to go for a subscription that you have to take care to cancel afterwards.

It would be nice to have some laws around subscription services. Something along the lines of

1. Services have to inform the user (text, email...) every time they charge their card. Even better would be to inform 48 hours before, so users have a chance to cancel.

2. Any subscription service should provide the user to choose the duration, when they sign up. If I need LinkedIn subscription for 3 months, then I should be able to choose at the time of subscription, and it should be canceled automatically after three monthly payments.

And so on. These are all trivial to implement tech wise.

But hey, who am I kidding. These are never going to happen

That is the case in India enforced by RBI guidelines.


Watching this rule come into force has been weird and enlightening in many ways. For one, this rule caused a lot of friction as many banks and payment processing systems weren’t ready for it by the time it came into force. This despite it being announced over two years before it came into effect and a 6-month extension on the enforcement date! Also, while I personally like the new rules and support them wholeheartedly, there’s been significant opposition to them because they make it more onerous for businesses to set up subscriptions, an already rare and difficult business model in India. Personally, if your business mode counts on people so passively continuing to subscribe that they can’t re-authenticate every payment cycle (and that too only if it’s a significant amount per month!) I think you you should rethink what you do, but what do I know?

> For one, this rule caused a lot of friction as many banks and payment processing systems weren’t ready for it by the time it came into force. This despite it being announced over two years before it came into effect and a 6-month extension on the enforcement date!

Probably they hoped that the law got overturned by a change of government or because of lobbying/bribery... why invest in change when there's still a possibility of it being unneeded?

A change in Government isn't due for at least three more years - and even then, it's unlikely, as the ruling party hasn't really lost their popularity. I think you're right in that they were hoping for changes, but maybe through an internal process or something like that which didn't work out as expected.

And cancelling any such service should be required to be no more difficult than signing up for it was. For example, if you can sign up online with a simple form and a button click, you should be able to cancel online with a simple form and a button click.

When I read the title, I thought about ads being shown during calls. Looks like this is about ads on the final browser screen only:

> For this initial program, ads will be rolled out only on the browser page users see once they end their meeting. Only free Basic users in certain countries will see these ads if they join meetings that are hosted by other free Basic users.

"We heard you were talking about deliveries on your Zoom call. Try USP for fast deliveries, 10% off if you click here nowwwww!".

Use http://whereby.com instead. Reasonable people that make a markedly unfussy product.

(Full disclosure: I know the founders)

Looks like HN comments have ads too...

Make something cool and I'll shill for you :)

I've been using Whereby for the last couple of years, and I do like it. It works well for small calls, but for calls with more than 5 people I found that it started to use a lot of CPU. If you're smaller than that, it's actually one of the most frictionless videoconference tools around.

"Are you sick of your boss? CLICK HERE"

After the video call seems fine to me.

"Okay, thanks, bye"

killall -9 zoom

I don't get why so many people use Zoom. I think it's an American thing? No one around here uses it. Even if we ignore the very serious China problem (which, we shouldn't) and the numerous security and privacy lapses (again, we shouldn't) it's simply a vastly inferior product to alternatives from Google. Apple, Microsoft and even some smaller orgs. The desktop UI is horrendous, confusing and stagnant. The video quality is ok, but the audio quality doesn't hold a candle to Google's Meet product.

How much work would it be to write an open source alternative to Zoom?

And another question:

Since most users nowadays sit behind a router that only allows outbound connections - how do Zoom users connect to each other?

Right now? Nothing, jitsi meet exists.



I've been trying to get so many of my friends/family to use Jitsi instead of Zoom throughout the pandemic. Usually the response is, "Oh this is great!" And then they're back to using Zoom the next day because they're used to hearing "zoom" as a verb. Zoom did an incredible job marketing itself into a trend.

WebRTC with NAT traversal is a mature technology now. The problems are a) making the client ultra-reliable and just work for regular users (Zoom's main USP imho), and b) someone needs to host the service for rendezvous/signaling, and to TUN the long tail of nodes for which NAT traversal doesn't work. There is no true P2P on today's NAT'ed Internet.

> and to TUN the long tail of nodes for which NAT traversal doesn't work. There is no true P2P on today's NAT'ed Internet.

The bigger problem, which affects all nodes even if they can establish direct connectivity, is just the bandwidth requirements of true P2P videoconferencing once you have more than a few participants in the meeting. People often find out that even a connection marketed as "1Gbit fibre" likely has unacceptable loss/delay/jitter once they try to transmit, say, 50Mbit/s of UDP at a high packet rate to a variety of international destinations at the same time.

I highly doubt that any free tier user will care. You have to wonder why they would make this a news item however, other than to court potential advertisers?

Boosting stock performance. It's been dropping for a year now, after a big COVID run-up.

Looks like an attempt to extort users with aggressive ads to pay for subscription. Don't want any ads? Pay. The way YouTube does to enforce paid subscription on people by bombarding them with huge number of terrible ads.

Surprised people still use it considering that back office and R&D are in China and there was so many news about blocking users and groups outside China but ordered from China by CCP due to the discussed topics.

BTW, will Zoom now officially be collecting user data to sell more ads? I mean it kinda already did collect a lot of data to send it to China but officially this never happened. Now with ad business it will be official practice to aggressively collect data.

If you're not a customer, you're the product.

This is the one and only answer ;) Of course the alternative to making free customers the product is to upsell free customers to a paid plan and factor in the conversion rate when using free as a marketing method. But if the free product is "good enough" then there are few upsells (which I believe is Zoom's problem), and then it's back to the user is the product not the customer.

And it seems irresistible to many companies to make paying customers the product too.

This is a tired cliché. Users are products either way.

Zoom is just dumb. A year and a half of _everyone in the world_ using it and they couldn't even improve UX or introduce "raised hand" gesture or spatial audio so people wouldn't have to talk over one another, or even improve audio/video quality.

OTOH I feel like Slack used the opportunity well. Huddle is a very "astute" product decision.

Google Hangouts (or whatever it's called after their rebranding every 6 months) has improved leaps and bounds.

MS videoconferencing is the same as zoom - barely usable garbage.

Where's all the "innovation" all these companies constantly talk about? I want products that people use because they like them, not because they have to.

I can't blame them, considering how high bandwidth costs are for video.

According to Zoom, they annually host approximately 3.5 trillion minutes of video at 1.2Mbps. That's about $100 million worth of bandwidth for a company that generates $4 billion in revenue. And a portion of those hosted minutes are actually peer-to-peer and not going through their servers.

Yeah sure, but have quarterly revenues gone up? /s

I can't blame them either... but isn't high bandwidth usage a solvable problem?

Why can't they switch to P2P audio/video transmission instead of funneling everything through their servers?

The key issue with P2P is that you have many more total connections in the system, so the service itself usually takes a hit. You get N^2 in stead of N streams. You can also easier optimize the video quality per peer with a centralized system, possibly saving even further amounts of streams, because (as an example) you don't have to send out a 120p + 240p + 480p + 720p and so on, you only need to send one 720p stream, however this could conceivably be solved by smart compression. With p2p you would have to send the same stream to all participants. It becomes impractical very fast, and the quality of the service goes down quickly.

You do get worse latency though, right? Which I believe to be important for conversation quality, even when users don’t actively realize that latency is to blame.

I’ve always felt that Skype calls became much worse once Microsoft bought them and shifted away from p2p.

> You do get worse latency though, right? Which I believe to be important for conversation quality, even when users don’t actively realize that latency is to blame.

Latency in voice communication is super important, yes.

P2P latency can be better or worse than P2S2P latency. It depends on the networks the peers and server are on, where all parties are located, and how they're interconnected.

If the peers are on the same ISP, P2P is probably better, if they're not, it can vary widely. Sometimes those ISP will exchange packets directly, but far away, whereas they both may have more direct routes to a nearby server. If the peers are far away, the server network may have better long distance transit than the peer ISPs. Of course, sometimes the server is far away from both the peers. For some participants, p2p brings problems because it exposes each peer's IP to the other peers.

A well designed system will measure and adjust the routing for the best results, including during the call (and carefully adjust the buffering to avoid large jitter) as conditions can change.

I’d say 50% or more of my zoom calls involve 2 or fewer other people all on decent (>20mbps) connections. P2P seems viable for a large chunk of the usage where N is small.

You might be surprised how little of the "sticker bandwidth" on a residential connection you can actually use when you are sending UDP at a highish packet rate, perhaps to an international destination, and need low loss+latency+jitter.

The average experience of users would go down significantly as you start to multiply the bandwidth requirements, which is why P2P isn't typically used for more than 2 participants despite the potential bandwidth savings to the operator.

I suspect the support costs and adoption friction for bypassing all possible consumer NAT devices would be high. (No one wants to get the reputation as “oh, that video conf software fails to work a lot”.)

I suppose “try the P2P method and fallback automatically/invisibly to server-connected if that fails” could work pretty well though.

> (No one wants to get the reputation as “oh, that video conf software fails to work a lot”.)

Webex seem happy

Doesn't STUN/TURN effectively deal with the NAT problem nowadays, or is there more to it than that?

When you can't establish a direct connection (potentially with the help of STUN), you need to use TURN, which uses a server as a relay, so it's not really P2P any more (although a TURN server does less work than an SFU, so you can scale it up more cheaply).

Because P2P doesn't scale well when you have tens or hundreds of people transmitting video and consuming the video on different devices (mobile vs desktop) across different regions. You can't guarantee the experience is good when you don't control the distribution. Also P2P had potential to expose user IP's

Have ads (preferably animated) as the virtual background of all the meeting participants. If their camera isn't on, then have a Memoji fill-in sitting in a virtual ad-world. True innovation!

For additional dystopian vibes, add the advertisement in the others voice- while synthesizing neural net face video..

Your coworkers and customers and boss are loving it..

In case anyone is looking for an alternative to hosted services like Zoom/Teams: https://github.com/garage44/pyrite is an open-source Vue frontend for The Galène videoconference server(Pion/Golang).

Whereby is still add-free. For the moment.

I’m surprised there aren’t more very easy open-source alternatives than https://jitsi.org/jitsi-meet/ , given WebRTC is peer-to-peer and doesn’t consume bandwidth from the hosting service.

It stops being peer-to-peer as soon as there are more than two participants (i.e more than one destination for the stream). Jitsi uses their Videobridge https://jitsi.org/jitsi-videobridge/ as a central server to do the multiplexing.

Did they finally realize that the 45min time limit on the free plan was a feature? :)

I don't care as long as they don't track me. (They probably will)

That didn't take long.

There are better ad-free tools like FaceTime (which can be used on the web) for speaking with friends and family.

Back to Google Meet then.

Google Meet fails at about 15 users. Zoom can handle hundreds.

That is not true in my experience.. we regularly use meet with around 50 participants at work.

I'm curious, what are you doing that requires supporting hundreds of active participants (as opposed to a few active participants, plus a hundreds of spectators)?

I run a free virtual coworking community. Going over 15 users isn’t uncommon. Though since it is based around coworking and accountability, most users are closer to spectators than active participants.

I’m not putting shade on Meet. Haven’t used it in over a year.

While ads are frustrating, isn't the pervasive nature of surveillance capitalism worse? Would we rather pay some small amounts for the digital products we use, watch a handful of ads, or handover the totality of our thoughts, intentions, and behavior to the provider?

Seems like our grandparents were correct. Nothing is free.

Anything that competes with the advertising oligopoly is good.

Will the free tier still be limited to 40 minutes with ads?

Are they also removing the 40 minute free tier time limit?

And overnight Skype became relevant again.

Adverts for Google Meet?

What is Zoom Video?

People still use Zoom? Didn’t they hype up some productivity suite at the height of the pandemic to attract more investment money? Is Zoom management another scam management? One trick pony?

Every government and school meeting I've had to attend over the last two years is on Zoom. We tried to go with someone else but peer pressure made us get a contract with Zoom for all classes.

Zoom UI & UX remains atrocious, I don't understand why they got that much traction.

The video and audio quality is still more reliable than anything else I've tried. In the sense of not "breaking up"; not that it's actually high-res audio or video. It's the only one where regardless of participants network or machine quality, the conversation hardly ever gets interrupted.

It also still can show more simultaneous "squares" of video than most (maybe not all anymore) of it's competitors.

Also it's atrocious UI and UX may still be better than MS Teams.

Interesting contrarian opinion. I have literally never met a person who thought this, and I have managed Zoom migrations for multiple companies

Agree, recently changed jobs and went from Zoom to Teams and it's a complete dumpster fire. Never had a single issue with Zoom.

It’s cross platform and not owned by a FAANG company

It’s really good at one thing, which is getting people into calls in the Zoom client quickly and painlessly, no matter what device they're on. And, those calls have much better quality than any in-browser solution I’ve tried (e.g. Google Meet).

And unlike Google Meet or MS Teams, it doesn't cause my Macbook's fans to spin into orbit.

I agree. Also, those who claim it's more reliable than alternatives seem to have no qualms installing a native app. Like-for-like comparison with browser-based alternatives doesn't perform favorably.

I teach on zoom every week, and the UI is head and shoulders above every other competitor for screen share and annotation.

Google meet, and jitsi meet are both depressingly bad for this use case.

Agreed; I also teach virtually, across a number of platforms, and Zoom is the one that just works easily and intuitively for everyone. Screen sharing and breakout rooms are a pain in all the other tools I've tried.

It's not my favourite piece of software, but for virtual teaching, it is head-and-shoulders above the competition.

I also taught on zoom -when I had connection issues I had no idea how to reconnect to a dropped call. Meanwhile students where thrown out of the call when I took to long.

Compared to google meet it all felt like a bad joke.

Really? It works well for me. I've never had a problem participating in a Zoom meeting.

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