March 31, 2020

I love Zoom, but...

I'm trying to get one of the charities I work with on Zoom before our next scheduled meeting on Monday. This is at least the third time now that I've gone through the pain of getting a new group of people on the app, and it's a very painful process. Every. Single. Time.

What kind of problems, you ask? Let me count the ways.

I can't see (or hear) you..

Zoom's video and audio controls are hidden by default

One of the first problems new users run into is how to turn on the camera and microphone. For many good reasons, an application must be given permission to access your camera and microphone -- you don't want apps to be able to surreptitiously film you or eavesdrop. But is it really necessary to hide these controls the very first time a user runs your application?

First of all, we have to ask if the user connected via a laptop or a phone, and because they are muted and have their camera off, they can't tell you. If it's the former, they have to move their mouse to the bottom of the screen to reveal these controls. If the latter, they have to touch the screen. Neither action is obvious.

And the first questions to the new user are very confusing:

Guess which one?

What does "Call using Internet Audio" mean, exactly? I dunno either, and I make a living at this kind of thing. (This is the one you want to pick, by the way...). Even people who consider themselves technically savvy will be tempted by the other options (such as to "Dial in"), but those are almost always wrong.

Where are you?

In most apps made in the last several years, if you want to share something that you're looking at (like a Web address or photo), you click on a button usually labelled "share". Often it has an arrow pointing up. In fact, just like this one:

Don't click this

You would expect this button to provide some way for you to share this meeting with someone else, so that they can join. But you would be wrong. This button is only used to share your desktop with the people who have already found your meeting.

How you actually share the address of this meeting varies (as always) between the desktop and the phone apps. On my desktop, I have to find this tiny little 'i' in a circle on the top left of my screen, like this one:

Does the 'i' mean info?

It's really, really tiny and took me forever to find it. But when I did and decided to try clicking on it (not immediately obvious, in the least), I finally found what I was looking for:

Finding the address of your call is challenging

That's just the beginning of the issues. Most people will also have to wrestle with their device settings (completely different on the Mac and Windows), for example.

Practice makes perfect

It's so painful getting started on Zoom, it's a wonder anyone uses it. We persevere because it is, by far, the best solution out there right now, with the best video quality and with the least restrictions on the free version.

The only solution I've found for Zoom's innumerable UX issues is practice, and lots of it. Our charity has several days until our first remote-first meeting, so I'm holding a surgery each night. I'm coaxing our members, one-by-one, around all of the obstacles and over all of the hurdles.

By the time Monday comes around, we'll still probably spend the first 20-30 minutes getting everyone connected. Once we connect, however, we'll be able to carry on our work, which is needed more than ever now. And that's what matters.

Tags: ux zoom videoconferencing