Interactio, a remote interpretation platform, grabs $30M after seeing 12x growth during COVID-19

Interactio, a remote interpretation platform whose customers include massive institutions like the United Nations, European Commission and Parliament along with corporates like BMW, JP Morgan and Microsoft, has closed a whopping $30 million Series A after usage of its tools grew 12x between 2019 and 2020 as demand for online meeting platforms surged during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Series A funding is led by Eight Roads Ventures and Silicon Valley-based Storm Ventures, along with participation from Practica Capital, Notion Capital, as well as notable angels such as Jaan Tallinn, the co-founder of Skype, and Young Sohn, ex-chief strategy officer of Samsung.

The Vilnius, Lithuania-based startup offers digital tools to connect meetings with certified interpreters who carry out real-time interpretation to bridge language divides between participants. It does also offer a video conferencing platform which its customers can use to run remote meetings but will happily integrate with thirty party software like Zoom, Webex etc. (Last year it says its digital tools were used alongside 43 different video streaming platforms.)

Interactio’s interpreters can be in the room where the meeting is taking place or doing the real-time interpretation entirely remotely by watching and listening to a stream of the meeting. (Or, indeed, it can support a mix of remote and on-site interpretation, if a client wishes.)

It can also supply all the interpreters for a meeting — and it touts a strict vetting procedure for onboarding certified interpreters to its platform — or else it will provide training to a customer’s interpreters on the use of its tools to ensure things run smoothly on the day.

At present, Interactio says it works with 1,000+ freelance interpreters, as well as touting “strong relations with interpretation agencies” — claiming it can easily quadruple the pool of available interpreters to step up to meet rising demand.

It offers its customers interpretation in any language — and in an unlimited number of languages per event. And last year it says it hosted 18,000+ meetings with 390,000 listeners spread across more than 70 countries.

Now, flush with a huge Series A, Interactio is gearing up for a future filled with increasing numbers of multi-lingual online meetings — as the coronavirus continues to inject friction into business travel.

“When we started, our biggest competition was simultaneous interpretation hardware for on-site interpretation. At that time, we were on the mission to fully replace it with our software that required zero additional hardware for attendees besides their phone and headphones. However, for institutions, which became our primary focus, hybrid meetings are the key, so we started partnering with simultaneous interpretation hardware manufacturers and integrators by working together on hybrid events, where participants use hardware on-site, and online participants use us,” a spokeswoman told us.

“This is how we differentiate ourselves from other platforms — by offering a fully hybrid solution, that can be integrated with hardware on-site basically via one cable.”

“Moreover, when we look at the market trends, we still see Zoom as the most used solution, so we compliment it by offering professional interpretation solutions,” she added.

A focus on customer support is another tactic that Interactio says it relies upon to stand out — and its iOS and Android apps do have high ratings on aggregate. (Albeit, there are bunch of historical complaints mixed in suggesting it’s had issues scaling its service to large audiences in the past, as well as sporadic problems with things like audio quality over the years.)

While already profitable, the 2014-founded startup says the  Series A will be used to step on the gas to continue to meet the accelerated demand and exponential growth it’s seen during the remote work boom.

Specifically, the funds will go on enhancing its tech and UX/UI — with a focus on ensuring ease of access/simplicity for those needing to access interpretation, and also on upgrading the tools it provides to interpreters (so they have “the best working conditions from their chosen place of work”).

It will also be spending to expand its client base — and is especially seeking to onboard more corporates and other types of customers. (“Last year’s focus was and still is institutions (e.g. European Commission, European Parliament, United Nations), where there is no place for an error and they need the most professional solution. The next step will be to expand our client base to corporate clients and a larger public that needs interpretation,” it told us.)

The new funding will also be used to expand the size of its team to support those goals, including growing the number of qualified interpreters it works with so it can keep pace with rising demand.

While major institutions like the UN are never going to be tempted to skimp on the quality of translation provided to diplomats and politicians by not using human interpreters (either on premise or working remotely), there may be a limit on how far professional real-time translation can scale given the availability of real-time machine translation technology — which offers a cheap alternative to support more basic meeting scenarios, such as between two professionals having an informal meeting.

Google, for example, offers a real-time translator mode that’s accessible to users of its smartphone platform via the Google voice assistant AI. Hardware startups are also trying to target real-time translation. The dream of a real-life AI-powered ‘Babel Fish’ remains strong.

Nonetheless, such efforts aren’t well suited to supporting meetings and conferences at scale — where having a centralized delivery service that’s also responsible for troubleshooting any audio quality or other issues which may arise looks essential.

And while machine translation has undoubtedly got a lot better over the years (albeit performance can vary, depending on the languages involved) there is still a risk that key details could be lost in translation if/when the machine gets it wrong. So offering highly scalable human translation via a digital platform looks like a safe bet as the world gets accustomed to more remote work (and less globetrotting) being the new normal.

“AI-driven translation is a great tool when you need a quick solution and are willing to sacrifice the quality,” says Interactio when we ask about this. “Our clients are large corporations and institutions, therefore, any kind of misunderstanding can be crucial. Here, the translation is not about saying a word in a different language, it’s about giving the meaning and communicating a context via interpretation.

“We strongly believe that only humans can understand the true context and meaning of conversations, where sometimes a tone of voice, an emotion and a figure speech can make a huge difference, that is unnoticed by a machine.”

#android, #artificial-intelligence, #assistant, #covid-19, #eight-roads-ventures, #europe, #european-commission, #european-parliament, #fundings-exits, #interactio, #jaan-tallinn, #jp-morgan, #lithuania, #machine-translation, #microsoft, #notion-capital, #online-meetings, #practica-capital, #remote-work, #saas, #samsung, #silicon-valley, #skype, #storm-ventures, #translation, #translator, #united-nations, #video-conferencing, #web-conferencing, #webex, #young-sohn, #zoom

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Otter.ai’s new assistant can automatically transcribe your Zoom meetings

A.I.-powered voice transcription service Otter.ai wants to make it even easier for its business users to record their meetings. The company is today introducing a new feature, Otter Assistant, which can automatically join the Zoom meetings on your calendar, transcribe the conversations, and share the notes with other participants. Though Otter.ai is already integrated with Zoom, the assistant is designed to make using transcription something you don’t have to constantly remember to enable at the meeting’s start or stop at the end, while also serving as a place where participants can collaborate by asking questions, sharing photos and more, as the meeting is underway.

The feature also works around the earlier limitation with Zoom, where only the meeting host could use the Otter.ai integration directly.

The idea to automate meeting transcription makes sense for the remote work environment created by the pandemic, where people have been splitting their time between work, parenting, homeschooling and other duties. This can often lead to meetings where users are pulled away and miss things that had been said. That’s one area where Otter.ai can help. But it can also help with issues like overlapping meetings, or larger meetings were only a few topics are directly relevant to your work — but where you’d like to be able to review the rest of the meeting discussion later, instead of in real-time.

To use the new Otter Assistant, users first synchronize their Google Calendar or Microsoft Calendar with Otter’s service. The assistant will then automatically join all Zoom meetings going forward, where it appears as an additional meeting participant, for transparency’s sake.

The assistant also posts a link to the transcription in the Zoom chat for everyone to access. In other words, this is not a feature to use to skip meetings without your boss knowing — it’s designed for those times when everyone has already agreed the meeting will be transcribed.

As the meeting continues, attendees can use Otter’s live transcript to highlight key parts, add photos, and make notes. They can also ask questions via the commenting feature, as opposed to speaking up — which may be helpful if you’re in a noisy place at the time of the meeting.

Once the assistant is enabled, you don’t have to remember to turn on Otter.ai for each meeting, and you can even use your headphones to listen to the meeting in progress. The Otter Assistant will still be able to record both sides of the conversation.

However, you are able to turn Otter Assistant off on a per-meeting basis via the “My Agenda” section on the Otter website, which will include new toggles next to each meeting you have scheduled.

When meetings wrap, you can also have Otter.ai configured to automatically share the meeting notes with all the attendees.

The Otter Assistant is available to Otter.ai Business users, which are upgraded plans that start at $20 per month, and include features like two-factor authentication, SOC2 compliance, advanced search, export, custom vocabulary, shared speaker identification, centralized data and billing, and more.

To date, Otter.ai says it has transcribed over 150 million meetings, up from 100 million in the beginning of 2021 . The company doesn’t provide details on its total subscriber base, but did note earlier it saw a sizable 8x increase in revenues in 2020, leading up to its $50 million Series B, announced in February.

#ai, #artificial-intelligence, #assistant, #hybrid-office, #meeting, #meetings, #office, #otter, #otter-ai, #productivity, #remote-work, #speaker, #startups, #voice, #web-conferencing, #zoom

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PingPong is a video chat app for product teams working across multiple time zones

From the earliest days of the pandemic, it was no secret that video chat was about to become a very hot space.

Over the past several months investors have bankrolled a handful of video startups with specific niches, ranging from always-on office surveillance to platforms that encouraged plenty of mini calls to avoid the need for more lengthy team-wide meetings. As the pandemic wanes and plenty of startups begin to look towards hybrid office models, there are others who have decided to lean into embracing a fully remote workforce, a strategy that may require new tools.

PingPong, a recent launch from Y Combinator’s latest batch, is building an asynchronous video chat app for the workplace. We selected PingPong as one of our favorite startups that debuted last week.

The company’s central sell is that for remote teams, there needs to be a better alternative to Slack or email for catching up with co-workers across time zones. While Zoom calls might be able to convey a company’s culture better than a post in a company-wide Slack channel, for fully remote teams operating on different continents, scheduling a company-wide meeting is often a non-starter.

PingPong is selling its service as an addendum to Slack that helps remote product teams collaborate and convey what they’re working on. Users can capture a short video of themselves and share their screen in lieu of a standup presentation and then they can get caught up on each other’s progress on their own time. PingPong’s hope is that users find more value in brainstorming, conducting design reviews, reporting bugs and more inside while using asynchronous video than they would with text.

“We have a lot to do before we can replace Slack, so right now we kind of emphasize playing nice with Slack,” PingPong CEO Jeff Whitlock tells TechCrunch. “Our longer term vision is that what young people are doing in their consumer lives, they bring into the enterprise when they graduate into the workforce. You and I were using Instant Messenger all the time in the early 2000s and then we got to the workplace, that was the opportunity for Slack… We believe in the next five or so years, something that’s a richer, more asynchronous video-based Slack alternative will have a lot more interest.”

Building a chat app specifically designed for remote product teams operating in multiple time zones is a tight niche for now, but Whitlock believes that this will become a more common problem as companies embrace the benefits of remote teams post-pandemic. PingPong costs $100 per user per year.

#ceo, #enterprise, #groupware, #operating-systems, #pingpong, #slack, #software, #startups, #tc, #telecommuting, #web-conferencing, #y-combinator, #zoom

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Whereby, which allows more collaboration over video calls, raises $12M from Point Nine and 20 Angels

Zoom, Microsoft and Google all rocketed to the top of the charts in the virtual meetings stakes during the pandemic but a plucky startup from Norway had others ideas. Video meeting startup Whereby has now raised $12 million from German VC Point Nine, SaaStr fund and a group of more than 20 angel investors.

Angels investors include Josh Buckley(CEO, Producthunt), Elizabeth Yin (Hustlefund) and Jason M. Lemkin (founder of Saastr).

Øyvind Reed, CEO at Whereby said in a statement: “The past year has led many of us to question the future of work, with video meetings set to remain a big part of our lives. More than ever, the tools we use to connect have to enable effective and enjoyable meetings, providing focus, collaboration and wellbeing. .”

Whereby’s platform has three pricing plans (including free) and allows users to embed tools like Google Docs, Trello and Miro directly in their meetings, unlike other video platforms.

Whereby was demonstrated to me by co-founder Ingrid Ødegaard on a coffee table during 2016’s Oslo Innovation Week. I immediately set-up my username, which has existed even as the startup changed it name from Appear.in. Ingrid told me during an interview that they “tried to be much more human-centric and really focus on some of the human problems that come with collaborating remotely. One of the big mistakes that a lot of people making is just replicating the behavior that they had in the office… whereas we think that you actually need to work in a fundamentally different way. We want to help people do that and by making it really easy to jump in and have a meeting when you need to. But our goal is not to push people to have more meetings, quite the opposite.”

The startup’s secret weapon is enterprise integrations. If you had a video meeting with a UK GP over video in the last year it was probably over Whereby (indeed, mine was!). Whereby won a contract with the NHS for its remote video patient consultations during the pandemic. Competitors for this include Jitsi and AccurX. The company claims it saw a 450% increase in users across 150 countries last year.

“Last year we saw the mass adoption of video meetings,” said Christoph Janz, Partner at Point Nine. “Now it’s about taking the user experience to the next level and Whereby will be leading that charge. It’s amazing to see a Scandinavian startup playing in the same league as the tech giants.”

#ceo, #christoph-janz, #co-founder, #elizabeth-yin, #europe, #founder, #free-software, #google, #ingrid, #jitsi, #josh-buckley, #microsoft, #miro, #nhs, #norway, #point-nine, #producthunt, #reed, #saastr, #shakil-khan, #spotify, #tc, #technology, #trello, #web-conferencing, #zoom

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Superpowered lets you see your schedule and join meetings from the Mac menu bar

A newly launched Mac app called Superpowered aims to make it easier to stay on top of all your Zoom calls and Google Meets, without having to scramble to find the meeting link in your inbox or calendar app at the last minute. Instead of relying on calendar reminders, Superpowered offers a notification inbox for the Mac menu bar that alerts you to online meetings just before they start, which you can then join with a click of a button.

To use Superpowered, you first download the app then authorize it to access to your Google Calendar. The app currently works with any Google account, including G Suite, as well as your subscribed calendars.

Once connected, Superpowered pulls all your events into the menu bar, which you can view at any time throughout the day with a click or by using the keyboard shortcut Command + Y.

When you have a meeting coming up, Superpowered will display a dropdown to alert you, or you can opt for a more subtle halo effect instead to have it get your attention. You can also configure other preferences — like whether you want a chime to sound, how far in advance you want to be alerted, whether you want a meeting reminder as text to appear in the menu bar ahead of the meeting, and so on.

When it’s time for the meeting, all you have to do is click the button it displays to join your Zoom call or Google Meet. The solution is simple, but effective. The startup plans to add support for more integrations going forward, including Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx, and others.

The idea for the app comes from four computer science and software engineering students from the University of Waterloo, who previously interned at tech companies like Google, Facebook, Asana and Spotify.

Image Credits: Superpowered team photo

Wanting to build a startup of their own, the team applied to the accelerator Y Combinator with an idea to build a lecture platform for professors. But they soon faced issues in keeping up with their own calendar appointments as they began to conduct user research interviews.

“We were struggling to keep up with each other’s calendars and balance all these meetings throughout the day,” explains Superpowered co-founder Jordan Dearsley, who built the service alongside teammates Nikhil Gupta, Ibrahim Irfan, and Nick Yand. “We would be at lunch and be like, ‘oh shoot, we have a meeting now — I have to run!’ or just completely miss it altogether,” he says.

Irfan had the idea to just put a button in the Mac menu bar to make it easier to join Zoom meetings, and soon the team pivoted to work on Superpowered instead.

The product itself is very new. Development work began roughly two months ago and Superpowered opened up to users just last month — a quick pace that Dearsley says was possible because three of the four team members are engineers, and the other, Yand, is the designer.

Image Credits: Superpowered

Although it’s a paid product offered at $10 per month, Superpowered already has hundreds of users who are interacting with the app, on average, 10 times per day. Busier users, like product managers, are clicking on Superpowered as many as 20 to 40 times per day — an indication that it’s found a place in users’ workflows. In the month since its launch, the app has connected users with over 10,000 online meetings, the company says.

Superpowered is not the first to add calendar appointments to the Mac’s menu bar. It competes with a range of products, like MeetingBar, Meeter, Next Meeting, and others. But users have been responding to Superpowered’s sleek, clean design.

The company also has a vision for the product’s future that extends beyond meetings. After solving this particular pain point, Superpowered plans to broaden its scope to fix other annoyances for knowledge workers — like Slack notifications, for example.

“It’s really annoying to be pinged all the time when I’m while I’m coding…and I don’t know if it’s something that’s worth seeing because Slack doesn’t really give me those controls or ability to peek,” explains Dearsley. Meanwhile, Mac’s built-in Notification Center isn’t smart enough to show you just those items that you really need to know about.

To address this, the team is now working on a Slack integration that will let you quickly check your messages and reply without having to launch the Slack app. Further down the road, the team wants integrate support for other platforms — like Google Docs, JIRA and GitHub — which would all be pulled into Superpowered’s universal notification inbox.

For the time being, Superpowered is $10 per month for Mac users, or $8 per month for those who sign up with a team. Annual pricing is not yet available.

#apps, #calendar, #google-calendar, #mac-app, #online-meetings, #productivity, #slack, #startups, #web-conferencing, #y-combinator, #zoom

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Will moving, ‘spacial video’ start to eat into square-box Zoom calls? SpatialChat thinks so

With most of us locked into a square video box on platforms like Zoom, the desire to break away and perhaps wander around a virtual space is strong. These new ways of presenting people – as small circles of videos placed in a virtual space where they can move around – has appeared in various forms, like ‘virtual bars’ for the last few months during global pandemic lockdowns. Hey, I even went to a few virtual bars myself! Although the drinks from my fridge could have been better…

The advantage of this spatial approach is it gives a lot more ‘agency’ to the user. You feel, at least, a bit more in control, as you can make a ‘physical’ choice as to where you go, even if it is only still a virtual experience.

Now SpatialChat, one of the first startups with that approach which launched on ProductHunt in April last year, is upping the game with a new design and the feature of persistent chats. The product debuted on ProductHunt on April 20, 2020, and rose to No. 3 app of the day. The web-based platform has been bootstrapped the founders with their own resources.

SpatialChat now adding a special tier and features for teams running town hall meetings and virtual offices, and says it now has more than 3,000 organizations as paying customers, with more than 200,000 total monthly active users.

The startup is part of a virtual networking space being populating by products such as
Teamflow, Gather, and Remo. Although it began as a online networking events service, its now trying to re-position as a forum for multi-group discussions, all the way up from simple stand-up meetings to online conferences.

SpatialChat uses a mix of ‘proximity’ video chats, screen sharing, and rooms for up to 50 people. It’s now putting in pricing plans for regular, weekly, and one-time use cases. It says it’s seen employees at Sony, Panasonic, Sega, LinkedIn, Salesforce, and McKinsey, as well as educators and staff at 108 American universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and MIT, use the platform.

Almas Abulkhairov, CEO and Co-founder of SpatialChat says: “Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams represent a virtual office for many teams but most of our customers say these apps aren’t a good fit for that. They don’t provide the same serendipity of thought you get working shoulder to shoulder and “Zoom fatigue” became a term for a reason. We want to bring the best from offline work.”

Konstantin Krasov, CPO at DataSouls, who used the platform, said: “We had 2500 people in attendance during a 2-day event that we hosted for our community of 50,000 Data Scientists. SpatialChat enabled us to make a cool networking event, Q/A and AMA with thought leaders in data science.”

#computing, #europe, #harvard, #linkedin, #mckinsey, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #mit, #panasonic, #salesforce, #software, #sony, #stanford, #tc, #web-conferencing, #workplace, #yale, #zoom

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Microsoft updates Teams with new presentation features

It’s (virtual) Microsoft Ignite this week, Microsoft’s annual IT-centric conference and its largest, with more than 26,000 people attending the last in-person event in 2019. Given its focus, it’s no surprise that Microsoft Teams is taking center stage in the announcements this year. Teams, after all, is now core to Microsoft’s productivity suite. Today’s announcements span the gamut from new meeting features to conference room hardware.

At the core of Teams — or its competitors like Slack for that matter — is the ability to collaborate across teams, but increasingly, that also includes collaboration with others outside of your organization. Today, Microsoft is announcing the preview Teams Connect to allow users to share channels with anyone, internal or external. These channels will appear alongside other teams and channel and allow for all of the standard Teams use cases. Admins will keep full control over these channels to ensure that external users only get access to the data they need, for example. This feature will roll out widely later this year.

What’s maybe more important to individual users, though, is that Teams will get a new PowerPoint Live feature that will allow presenters to present as usual — but with the added benefit of seeing all their notes, slides and meeting chats in a single view. And for those suffering through yet another PowerPoint presentation while trying to look engaged, PowerPoint Live lets them scroll through the presentation at will — or use a screen reader to make the content more accessible. This new feature is now available in Teams.

Also new on the presentation side is a set of presentation modes that use some visual wizardry to make presentations more engaging. ‘Standout mode’ shows the speakers video feed in front of the content, for example, while ‘Reporter mode; shows the content above the speaker’s shoulder, just like in your local news show. And side-by-side view — well, you can guess it. This feature will launch in March, but it will only feature the Standout mode first. Reporter mode and side-by-side will launch “soon.”

Another new view meant to visually spice up your meetings is the ‘Dynamic view.’ With this, Teams will try to arrange all of the elements of a meeting “for an optimal viewing experience,” personalized for each viewer. “As people join, turn on video, start to speak, or begin to present in a meeting, Teams automatically adjusts and personalizes your layout,” Microsoft says. What’s maybe more useful, though, is that Teams will put a gallery of participants at the top of the screen to help you maintain a natural eye gaze (without any AI trickery).

As for large-scale meetings, Teams users can now hold interactive webinars with up to 1,000 people inside and outside of their organization. And for all of those occasions where your CEO just has to give a presentation to everybody, Teams supports broadcast-only meetings with up to 20,000 viewers. That’ll go down to 10,000 attendees after June 30, 2021, based on the idea that the pandemic will be mostly over then and the heightened demand for visual events will subside around that time. Good luck to us all.

For that time when we’ll go back to an office, Microsoft is building intelligent speakers for conference rooms that are able to differentiate between the voices of up to 10 speakers to provide more accurate transcripts. It’s also teaming up with Dell and others to launch new conference room monitors and speaker bars.

#artificial-intelligence, #ceo, #computing, #dell, #enterprise, #microsoft, #microsoft-ignite-2021, #microsoft-powerpoint, #microsoft-teams, #microsoft-office, #operating-systems, #presentation-software, #reporter, #software, #speaker, #tc, #web-conferencing

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A.I.-powered transcription service Otter.ai can now record from Google Meet

Otter.ai, the A.I.-powered voice transcription service which already integrates with Zoom for recording online meetings and webinars, is today bringing its service to Google Meet’s over 100 million users. However, in this case, Otter.ai will provide its live, interactive transcripts and video captions by way of a Chrome web browser extension.

Once installed, a “Live Notes” panel will launch directly in the Chrome web browser during Google Meet calls, where it appears on the side of the Google Meet interface. The panel can be moved around and scrolled through as the meeting is underway.

Here, users can view the live transcript of the online meeting, as it occurs. They can also adjust the text size, then save and share the audio transcripts when the meeting has wrapped.

The company says the feature helps businesses cut down on miscommunication, particularly for non-native English speakers who may have trouble understanding the spoken word. It also offers a more accessible way for engaging with live meeting content.

And because the transcriptions can be shared after the fact, people who missed the meeting can still be looped in to catch up — an increasing need in the remote work era of the pandemic, where home and parenting responsibilities can often distract users from their daily tasks.

The transcripts themselves can also be edited after the fact by adding images and highlights, and they can be searched by keywords, as with any Otter.ai transcription.

In addition, users can access the company’s Live Captions feature that supports custom vocabulary. Otter points out that there are other live captioning options already available for Google Meet, but the difference here is that Otter’s system creates a collaborative transcript when the meeting ends. Other systems, meanwhile, tend to just offer live captions during the meeting itself.

To use the new feature, Chrome users will need to install the Otter.ai Chrome extension from the Chrome Web Store, then sign in to their Otter.ai account. The new feature is available to all Otter.ai customers, including those on Basic, Pro and Business plans.

Otter in the past leveraged its earlier Zoom integration to push more users from free plans to paid tiers, and will likely do the same with the new Google Meet support. The company’s paid plans offer the ability to record more minutes per month, and include a range of additional features like the ability to import audio and video for transcription, a variety of export options, advanced search features, Dropbox sync, added security measures, and more.

The company has seen its business increase due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying shift to online meetings. Last April, Otter said it had transcribed over 25 million meetings, and its revenue run rated had doubled compared with the end of 2019.

#a-i, #artificial-intelligence, #google-meet, #online-meetings, #startups, #web-conferencing

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Zoom settles with FTC after making ‘deceptive’ security claims

The Federal Trade Commission has announced a settlement with Zoom, after it accused the video calling giant of engaging in “a series of deceptive and unfair practices that undermined the security of its users,” in part by claiming the encryption was stronger than it actually was.

Cast your mind back earlier this year at the height of the pandemic lockdown, which forced millions to work from home and rely on Zoom for work meetings and remote learning. At the time, Zoom claimed video calls were protected by “end-to-end” encryption, a way of scrambling calls that makes it near-impossible for anyone — even Zoom — to listen in.

But those claims were false.

“In reality, the FTC alleges, Zoom maintained the cryptographic keys that could allow Zoom to access the content of its customers’ meetings, and secured its Zoom Meetings, in part, with a lower level of encryption than promised,” said the FTC in a statement Monday. “Zoom’s misleading claims gave users a false sense of security, according to the FTC’s complaint, especially for those who used the company’s platform to discuss sensitive topics such as health and financial information.”

Zoom quickly admitted it was wrong, prompting the company to launch a 90-day turnaround effort, which included the rollout of end-to-end encryption to its users. That eventually months later in late October — but not without another backtrack after Zoom initially said free users could not use end-to-end encryption.

The FTC also alleged in its complaint that Zoom stored some meeting recordings unencrypted on its servers for up to two months, and compromised the security of its users by covertly installing a web server on its users’ computers in order for users to jump into meetings faster. This, the FTC said, “was unfair and violated the FTC Act.” Zoom pushed out an update which removed the web server, but Apple also intervened to remove the vulnerable component from its customers’ computers.

In its statement, the FTC said it has prohibited Zoom from misrepresenting its security and privacy practices going forward, and has agreed to start a vulnerability management program and implement stronger security across its internal network.

Zoom did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

#cryptography, #data-security, #encryption, #end-to-end-encryption, #federal-trade-commission, #films, #security, #telecommunications, #web-conferencing, #web-server, #zoom

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Zoom launches end-to-end encryption for free meetings — with a catch

Zoom, the video calling company that millions turned to during the pandemic, has finally launched end-to-end encrypted video calls for free accounts.

The company said last week that it was readying the feature, months after it drew criticism for denying end-to-end encrypted calls to free users, effectively drawing a line between paid users whose conversations could not be accessed by Zoom and those with free accounts whose conversations weren’t as private.

Zoom said the new end-to-end encryption feature, which makes it much harder for anyone outside of the video call — including Zoom — access to the conversation, will roll out as a technical preview starting in Zoom 5.4.0 for desktop and mobile apps.

Zoom acquired Keybase in May in part to bring its encryption technology to Zoom calls.

But there’s a catch — or a handful.

Because end-to-end encryption has to be enabled for every user joining the call, some other features will not be available. Users on an encrypted call won’t be able to use Zoom’s cloud recording, live transcription, and meeting reactions features, and participants won’t be able to join the call by phone or use one-to-one private chat. And, all participants have to use a Zoom app that supports end-to-end encryption, as the browser version will not work.

Any free account wanting to use end-to-end encryption will have to verify a phone number and add billing information — which Zoom says is necessary to prevent abuse.

Zoom’s chief information security officer Jason Lee said end-to-end encryption was a “highly requested feature from our customers, and we’re excited to make this a reality.”

Better late than never.

#encryption, #end-to-end-encryption, #keybase, #private, #security, #teleconferencing, #web-conferencing, #zoom

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Lightspeed Venture Partners backs Theta Lake’s video conferencing security tech with $12.7 million

Theta Lake, a provider of compliance and security tools for conferencing software like Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, RingCentral, Zoom and others, said it has raised $12.7 million in a new round of funding.

Lightspeed Venture Partners led the round with commitments from Cisco Investments, angel investors from the collaboration and security space, and previous investors, Neotribe Ventures, Firebolt Ventures and WestWave Capital, the company said.

The company’s financing comes as the COVID-19 pandemic has created a surge of demand for remote work conferencing technologies — and services that can ensure the security of those communications.

Citing a Research and Markets report, the company estimates that the market will grow from $8.9 billion in 2019 to $23 billion by the end of this year.

Theta Lake said that the funding would be used to increase its sales and marketing capabilities and for research and development on new product features, according to a statement. 

The company’s tech already uses machine learning to detect security risks in video, visual, voice, chat and document content shared over video and collaboration tools.

As a result of its investment, Arif Janmohamed, a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, will join the Theta Lake Board of Directors, the company said. 

“The need for security and compliance solutions that fully cover modern collaboration tools should be obvious to everyone,” said Devin Redmond, Theta Lake’s co-founder and chief executive, in a statement. “That need pre-existed the pandemic, but now is more pressing than ever. The shift from physical work sites and employer-owned networks with tightly managed devices and applications, to a distributed workplace that lives inside your collaboration tools means organizations need new security and compliance coverage that lives inside that new workplace. 

 

#artificial-intelligence, #cisco-investments, #cisco-systems, #collaboration-tools, #companies, #computing, #lightspeed, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #neotribe-ventures, #partner, #ringcentral, #security-tools, #tc, #telecommunications, #web-conferencing

0

Woven adds to its calendar app’s $20/mo premium plan

Productivity software has had a huge couple of years, yet for all of the great note-taking apps that have launched, consumers haven’t gotten a lot of quality options for Google Calendar replacements.

This week, Woven, a calendar startup founded by former Facebook CIO Tim Campos is shaking up the premium tier of their scheduling software, hoping that productivity-focused users will pay to further optimize the calendar experience just as they have paid up for subscription email services like Superhuman and note-taking apps like Notion.

There’s been a pretty huge influx of investor dollars into the productivity space which has shown a lot of promise in bottoms-up scaling inside enterprises by first aiming to sell their products to individuals. Woven has raised about $5 million to date with investments from Battery Ventures, Felicis Ventures and Tiny Capital, among others.

“Time is the most valuable asset that we have,” Campos told TechCrunch. “We think there’s a real opportunity to do much more with the calendar.”

Their new product will help determine just how much demand there is for a pro-tier calendar that aims to make life easier for professionals than Google Calendar or Outlook Calendar cares to. The new product, which is $20 per month ($10 during an early access period if you pay for a year), builds on the company’s free tier product giving users a handful of new features. There’s still quite a bit of functionality in the free tier still, which is sticking around, but the lack of multi-account support is one of the big limitations there. 

Image credit: via Woven.

The core of Woven’s value is likely its Calendly-like scheduling links which allow single users to quickly show when they’re free, or give teams the ability to eliminate back-in-forth entirely when scheduling meetings by scanning everyone’s availability and suggesting times that are uniformly available. In this latest update, the startup has also launched a new feature called Open Invite which allows users to blast out links to join webinars that recipients can quickly register for.

One of Woven’s top features is probably Smart Templates which aims to learn from your habits and strip down the amount of time it takes to organize a meeting. Selecting the template can automatically set you up with a one-time Zoom link, ping participants for their availability with Woven’s scheduling links and take care of mundane details. Now, the titles automatically update depending on participants, location or company information as well. While plenty of productivity happens on the desktop, the startup is trying to push the envelope on mobile as well. They’ve added an iMessage integration to quickly allow people to share their availability and schedule meetings inside chat.

The product updates arrive soon after the announcement of the company’s Zoom “Zapp,” which shoves the app’s functionality inside Zoom and will likely be a bit sell to new users.

 

#battery-ventures, #cio, #facebook, #felicis-ventures, #google-calendar, #groupware, #productivity-software, #tc, #teleconferencing, #tiny-capital, #web-conferencing, #zoom

0

Dialpad raises $100M Series E at a $1.2B valuation

Dialpad, the business-centric voice, video and contact-center service, today announced that it has raised a $100 million Series E funding round led by OMERS Growth Equity. Andreessen Horowitz, Google Ventures, ICONIQ Capital and Work-Bench also participated. The company says its valuation is over $1.2 billion after it has now raised a total of $245 million.

The funding news comes only a few weeks after the company also announced its acquisition of video conferencing service Highfive, a move that brought deeper expertise in mobile video and conferencing room devices to the company.

Recently, Dialpad has put a lot of emphasis on its AI solutions. Back in 2018, it launched its VoiceAI service, for example, and it now offers a number of AI solutions as part of its Voice Intelligence service (or Vi, as the company calls it). This includes a note-taking service, for example, as well as call transcripts and sentiment analysis, among other features.

“We have seen a huge increase in demand for cloud communications tools, and we are raising additional capital to meet this demand,” said Craig Walker, CEO of Dialpad. “Users want a single platform to handle voice, video and messaging. They also want that platform to be smart; to do things like automate note taking and provide real-time insights and answers in response to what’s happening on a call or meeting. We have invested in real-time speech recognition, natural language processing and voice analytics on a system that works anywhere, on any device. Our goal has always been to empower the future of work, and we are thrilled to join the OMERS Growth Equity portfolio and to continue to innovate.”

The company says it now has an annual run rate of over $100 million and its customers include the likes of Uber, Motorola Solutions, Domo and Xero. In total, the 500-employee company says it now has more than 70,000 customers.

“We are excited to become an investor in Dialpad. Craig and his team have built an impressive company, offering a leading product in a market with a long growth runway. We believe cloud-based software and artificial intelligence are in the early stages of widespread adoption, and Dialpad is playing a leading role in this change,” said Mark Shulgan, Managing Director and Head of OMERS Growth Equity, who will join the company’s board. We are proud to join Dialpad’s impressive roster of existing investors, and look forward to taking this journey with the company.”

#andreessen-horowitz, #artificial-intelligence, #ceo, #cloud-based-software, #craig-walker, #dialpad, #google-ventures, #highfive, #iconiq-capital, #motorola-solutions, #natural-language-processing, #omers, #omers-growth-equity, #speech-recognition, #tc, #teleconferencing, #uber, #video-conferencing, #voice-intelligence, #web-conferencing

0

Google launches new AI-powered meeting room hardware

Google today announced the Google Meet Series One, a new video conferencing hardware suite for meeting rooms. Built in collaboration with Lenovo, the Series One uses high-end cameras and microphones and then marries them with Google’s AI smarts thanks to using Google’s own Coral M.2 accelerator modules with the company’s Edge TPUs.

Previous Google Meet hardware efforts from companies like ASUS, Acer and Logitech were generally built around a Chromebox. This new effort uses a custom-built compute system at its core and combines that with an almost Google Nest-like tablet-sized screen, a soundbar with eight built-in microphones, additional microphone pods and one of two cameras.

Image Credits: Google

The cameras are maybe the most interesting option here, with the Smart Camera XL features a 20.3-megapixel sensor and 4.3x optical zoom. Thanks to these specs, it can be used as a digital PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) camera. With that, the system can always automatically zoom in to frame everybody in the room and when the next person joins, it can zoom and pan as necessary to make sure everybody is still visible.

The regular Smart Camera can still do most of this, but it doesn’t feature the optical zoom, making it a better solution for smaller rooms. Google partnered with Huddly to develop this camera system (and the two companies also collaborated on previous Meet hardware projects).

But Google also put a lot of effort into the audio system. With its eight beam-forming microphones built into the soundbar and advanced noise cancellation techniques running on Google’s AI chips, the system should be able to filter out most distractions. Companies can add additional soundbars that only feature the speakers and microphones without the AI chips to cover even larger rooms. These additional units only feature the speakers and microphones, without the additional AI hardware since all of the processing needs to be done centrally.

Image Credits: Google

One nice touch here is that the team also made it easy to install these systems thanks to using Power-over-Ethernet. That should make installing one of these systems in a conference room pretty easy.

Since this is Google, it’s probably no surprise that you can also use the Google Assistant on this system, providing you with hands-free control over the room (something that’s maybe more important today than ever before).

The smallest room kit, with the basic Smart Camera but without the tablet-style meeting controller and microphone pod, will retail for $2,699. For $2,999 you get a complete set with one standard camera, soundbar, microphone pod and controller and if you have a very large room, you can opt for the $3,999 version with the additional soundbar, two microphone pods and the Smart Camera XL.

#acer, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #asus, #chromebox, #computing, #google, #google-nest, #hardware, #huddly, #lenovo, #logitech, #smartphones, #technology, #teleconferencing, #video, #video-conferencing, #web-conferencing, #zoom

0

Zoom’s Q2 report details some of the most extraordinary growth I’ve ever seen

Many companies have posted the occasional big quarter. These outsized periods may come when a business sells part of itself, or, through some arcane non-cash financial hijinks, it posts impressive numbers that appear prodigious when compared to their regular operating results. (Like when Uber recorded huge profits in its March 31, 2018 quarter.)


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


And then there’s Zoom, the cloud video comms company that went public in April, 2019. It just turned in a quarter so extraordinary that you might presume it was inflated, or otherwise somehow faux. But what makes Zoom’s Q2 earnings data so damn interesting and impressive is that it appears that the company has managed to just grow more than anyone expected or perhaps thought possible, in less time, while making more money than anticipated.

Re-reading the Zoom results this morning, I can confidently say that I haven’t ever read a more impressive earnings document. Zoom had a strong Q1, but it had a bonkers Q2.

Let’s dig into the numbers to understand what the world’s most impressive COVID-bump looks like.

A monster Q2

At the end of its Q1, Zoom told investors that it expected to generate revenue “between $495.0 million and $500.0 million” in Q2 2020 and “between $1.775 billion and $1.800 billion” for its full fiscal year, which is offset by one month from the calendar year.

Before its Q2 report, investors had expected a bit more, with average estimates for Q2 2020 revenue coming in at $500.5 million. Regarding its fiscal year, analysts expected the company to generate $1.81 billion in revenue.

#cloud, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #earnings, #saas, #tc, #video, #web-conferencing, #zoom

0

Dialpad acquires video conferencing service Highfive

VoIP provider Dialpad, the company behind the popular video conferencing service UberConference, today announced that it has acquired Highfive, a well-funded video conferencing startup that focuses on providing businesses with conference room solutions. The two companies did not disclose the purchase price, but Highfive raised $77.4 million from the likes of Lightspeed Venture Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, General Catalyst and Dimension Data ahead of today’s acquisition.

Led by its CEO Craig Walker, who previously sold GrandCentral to Google and then built Google Voice, Dialpad is clearly aiming to double down on video. While UberConference does have built-in video conferencing features already, the service is mostly known for its calling features. In addition to its conference call solutions and VoiP platform for business users, Dialpad also offers a contact center solution.

“When we did UberConference eight years ago, we were like, ‘look, 80% of, of conferences are just people on the phone. So let’s make phone, audio conferencing better,” Walker said. “And then, obviously, over time time that started changing and then COVID totally accelerated it. So with that accelerating, we realized we really want to double down on video — and not with a mindset of ‘hey, video as a standalone thing is going to be a big investment,’ but video, as part of business communications, has to be excellent and has to be part of a Unified-Communications-as-a Service (UCaaS) system.”

Image Credits: Highfive

Highfive, which was incidentally also launched by a group of ex-Google engineers, always focused exclusively on video. Both companies, Walker noted, were also born in the cloud, but served somewhat different customers until now.

“What’s truly exciting about this combination is the joint heritage — both companies are truly born in the cloud, running on hyperscale, global infrastructures,” Highfive CEO Joe Manuele told me. “Dialpad‘s conferencing, UCaaS and CCaaS offerings were only ever built on public cloud infrastructures, as was Highfive’s. While video is an important part of Diaplpad’s current portfolio, we bring the ability to connect rooms, interop with other video services with our Meeting Connector technology and legacy device support with our Room Connector. Beyond the product fit, the shared industry vision that you can meet all of your communications needs over a hyperscale public cloud environment is what I’m personally most excited about.”

Manuele noted that the company’s board had considered other options, including a new round of fundraising, but in the end, the company decided that video conferencing services now essentially have become part of the larger UCaaS stack.

Image Credits: Dialpad

“While we have developed a scalable, born in the cloud video solution set, it was becoming harder to compete with competitors who were offering inferior ‘free’ video services as part of a UCaaS stack,” he said. “Even the industry leader Zoom had to move to IP Telephony and we see that trend to be irrefutable.”

That’s a thesis Dialpad’s Walker obviously agrees with. “Whether I’m on a phone call, whether it’s my business phone system, or I need to do a video call, or I need to do a conference call, or if I need to go screenshare — if I need to do any of these things, it should all just kind of be one [tool],” he said.

One area Highfive really exceeded in was making its service work seamlessly. It did that by tightly integrating its hardware and software stack, but also by reimagining some of the overall user experience around its room systems.

Walker admitted that nobody is really using room systems right now, but he believes that as people go back to their offices over time, video and remote meetings will potentially become even more important as most companies will adopt some kind of hybrid model for their employees.

He believes this acquisition will also give Dialpad a strong position in the overall market and that this allows Dialpad to offer a complete solution to its customers.

Highfive’s brand may ultimately go away, but customers who have already bought into the company’s systems won’t see any interruptions in their service.

#andreessen-horowitz, #ceo, #conference-call, #craig-walker, #dialpad, #dimension-data, #general-catalyst, #google, #google-voice, #grandcentral, #highfive, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #ma, #tc, #telecommunications, #teleconferencing, #uberconference, #video-conferencing, #voip, #web-conferencing

0

How I accidentally gatecrashed a startup’s morning meeting

There’s a certain kind of panic that at some point gets us all.

You just got to work but did you leave the oven on at home? The gut-punch “call me ASAP” message from your boss but now they’re not answering their phone. Or that moment you unexpectedly see your camera light flash on your computer and you’re suddenly in a video call with a ton of people you don’t know.

Yes, that last one was me. In my defense it was only slightly my fault.

I got a tip about a new security startup, with fresh funding and an idea that caught my interest. I didn’t have much to go on, so I did what any curious reporter did and started digging around. The startup’s website was splashy, but largely word salad. I couldn’t find basic answers to my simple questions. But the company’s idea still seemed smart. I just wanted to know how the company actually worked.

So I poked the website a little harder.

Reporters use a ton of tools to collect information, monitor changes in websites, check if someone opened their email for comment, and to navigate vast pools of public data. These tools aren’t special, reserved only for card-carrying members of the press, but rather open to anyone who wants to find and report information. One tool I use frequently on the security beat lists all the subdomains on a company’s website. These subdomains are public but deliberately hidden from view, yet you can often find things that you wouldn’t from the website itself.

Bingo! I immediately found the company’s pitch deck. Another subdomain had a ton of documentation on how its product works. A bunch of subdomains didn’t load, and a couple were blocked off for employees only. (It’s also a line in the legal sand. If it’s not public and you’re not allowed in, you’re not allowed to knock down the door.)

I clicked on another subdomain. A page flashed open, an icon in my Mac dock briefly bounced, and the camera light flashed on. Before I could register what was happening, I had joined what appeared to be the company’s morning meeting.

The only saving grace was my webcam cover, a proprietary home-made double layer of masking tape that blocked what looked like half a dozen people from staring back at me and my unkempt, pandemic-driven appearance.

I didn’t stick around to explain myself, but quickly emailed the company to warn of the security lapse. The company had hardcoded their Zoom meeting rooms to a number of subdomains on their company’s website. Anyone who knew the easy-to-guess subdomain — trust me, you could guess it — would immediately launch into one of the company’s standing Zoom meetings. No password required.

By the end of the day, the company had pulled the subdomains offline.

Zoom has seen its share of security issues and forced to change default settings to prevent abuse, largely driven by greater scrutiny of the platform as its usage rocketed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

But this wasn’t on Zoom, not this time. This was a company that connected an entirely unprotected Zoom meeting room to a conveniently memorable web address, likely for convenience, but one that could have left lurkers and eavesdroppers in the company’s meetings.

It’s not much to ask to password-protect your Zoom meetings, because next time it probably won’t be me.

#computing, #password, #privacy, #security, #telecommunications, #web-conferencing

0

3 best practices that will maximize the value of your online events

Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting calendars — along with travel budgets and marketing plans — by canceling events ranging to major league sports to tech conferences. This has impacted the startup and tech industries on all levels; by early March, economic losses from tech event cancellations alone amounted to more than $1.1 billion.

In response, many businesses have taken events online. Teleconferencing tools are being used more than ever, and Zoom registered 200 million daily users in March, up from a record of 10 million. Business figures and organizations can harness these online tools to minimize the blow of the worldwide shutdown, reach their target audiences and position themselves as thought leaders, but moving events online has its own problems.

The more meetups are generated, the more likely it is that yours will get lost in a sea of options. It’s also significantly easier for people to “attend” an event — and ignore it or exit early. There are plenty of studies demonstrating that internet users have shorter attention spans.

So you have to stand out and keep people engaged while speaking to people through a screen thousands of miles away. Over the past decade I have run more than 100 webinars with over 100,000 live attendees, and am one of the largest Meetup organizers in the world. Through trial and error I have developed a set of best practices that will keep people engaged in online events.

Transmitting real value by computer is certainly more challenging than face-to-face, but following these three pointers will help you get there.

1. Prepare for all eventualities

We all know what a badly prepared organized meeting looks like: frozen screens, buffering videos and broken audio.

The smart thing to do is to create a customized checklist of all the steps you’ll need to take before any virtual event. The most important non-human elements you should be checking are: internet connection, software (the program hosting the call and other tools), hardware (microphones and camera) and visual aids.

You know what that means: double-check your internet connection, microphones, and cameras (if possible, include the speakers in your test calls). Avoid shared internet and never allow the organizers to use the same network. There are applications for testing internet speed, which pretty much needs to be above 10 mbps upload and 20mbps download. In the long term, always consider spending more on a better internet package. Declutter your desktop before the meeting starts.

If you’re relocating an in-person event to a virtual setting, you’ll have to completely rebuild the program: while a physical event should last around two hours, a virtual one can’t be more than 1.25 hours long (drop-offs tend to peak after 45-60 minutes). Normally you’d also want plenty of speakers to improve networking afterwards, but online you’ll want a maximum of four to reduce the risk of technical issues and limit the duration.

In terms of organizers, designate an event host — just one — to coordinate the meeting and an event producer who’ll keep things running in the background. Decide on the best way for them to communicate during the talk; we usually rely on a live Google doc that is continually updated by the producer with selected audience questions. It means the host isn’t distracted by private chat notifications. A reliable host will involve the audience, protect the time designated to Q&As and keep the conversation moving.

Communicate constantly with your speakers beforehand, as they’re much more likely to cancel at the last minute for a virtual event. Run through the content they’ll be using days in advance — if they’re putting effort in ahead of time, they probably won’t be a no-show. Ask them to join the meeting 30 minutes before it begins to iron out any problems (get them to use headphones and ask them to reduce the number of people using their Wi-Fi if the connection is shaky).

To give a Power Point presentation, you or the speaker must make sure to set up your Slideshow to be “Browsed by an Individual (Window).” If not, the deck will take up the presenter’s entire screen and be very disorienting.

2. Create the right types of content for “at home” audiences

Ensuring you have solid content is not the same over Zoom as it is in-person.

First, make sure the discussion dives straight into the topic at hand and hook the audience immediately. Think of their attention span as that of someone trying out a new Netflix series: if attendees feel like the event is slow or overly promotional, they will exit faster. So keep the welcomes and thank-yous short and sweet and open with your most stimulating questions.

Tailor your content to the times and address realities that will strike a chord with participants’ daily lives. Research similar events so your angle stands out from any other conferences that are happening around the same time.

This is especially important now that everything is gravitating around COVID-19. What’s different in what your organization has to say, or in the speakers you have lined up? What are they more likely to agree on or, more importantly, disagree on? A good host will help keep debates alive and bring in those opposing views while avoiding unproductive conflicts.

Another note relating to COVID-19: don’t be insensitive to the moment. We’re trying to adapt through a period of true hardship, not exploit it to gain advantage.

Always keep your content moving. Conference attendees are more likely to pay attention to 5-10 minute discussions than 50 minutes devoted to a single drawn-out topic. And they won’t want to hear monologues when several speakers are on hand to provide stimulating counterarguments. Again, this is the host’s job during the event.

When possible, break up your presentation with visual aids like graphs and images (but please avoid any streaming content and videos). Our brains can process images 60,000 times faster than they process text. Participants will also appreciate being able to take away screen grabs that summarize what they heard for later use.

3. Include attendees in the event

Engaging people is more valuable than promoting your company during an online conference, especially in the current climate. Attendees will probably be coming in with questions they want answered or problem they need a solution to, rather than the desire to buy a product. If you can give them what they need, they’ll remember you.

Start involving participants before the event begins by asking them to submit questions for the speakers or describe a challenge they are facing. During the event, encourage guests to ask questions or contribute to the chat (but try not to limit interactions to the group chat, which everyone knows is often ignored). Ask for participants’ opinions when a speaker presents a new idea and thank people who do participate. You can also ask rhetorical questions that, even if they don’t lead to a two-way discussion, will keep people focused.

If you can, and it’s appropriate, integrate tools that require your guests’ input, like instant surveys. You might need to put a timer on them to keep people sharp and curious.

Video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Skype allow you to record calls, including video, and you should always do so in public events so that you can share the recording on social media afterwards. Even if your event has few attendees at the time, its reach can become far greater with time.

If you can, always get feedback from attendees after an event. Send follow-up emails with links to the presentations and the speakers’ webpages, as well as a calendar of your upcoming events.

In the age of digitization, we are lucky enough to be able to reach our audiences and co-workers despite worldwide lockdowns. But people will still be selective about how they spend their time. Your organization has to add something valuable to the discussion, and whatever you do, make sure you have good Wi-Fi.

#column, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #events, #extra-crunch, #market-analysis, #online-tools, #social-media, #startups, #teleconferencing, #video-conferencing, #virtual-reality, #web-conferencing, #zoom

0

Google’s Duo video chat app gets a family mode with doodles and masks

Google today launched an update to its Duo video chat app (which you definitely shouldn’t confuse with Hangouts or Google Meet, Google’s other video, audio and text chat apps).

There are plenty of jokes to be made about Google’s plethora of chat options, but Duo is trying to be a bit different from Hangouts and Meet in that it’s mobile-first and putting the emphasis on personal conversations. In its early days, it was very much only about one-on-one conversations (hence its name), but that has obviously changed (hence why Google will surely change its name sooner or later). This update shows this emphasis with the addition of what the company calls a “family mode.”

Once you activate this mode, you can start doodling on the screen, activate a number of new effects and virtually dress up with new masks. These effects and masks are now also available for one-on-one calls.

For Mother’s Day, Google is rolling out a special new effect that is sufficiently disturbing to make sure your mother will never want to use Duo again and immediately make her want to switch to Google Meet instead.

Only last month, Duo increased the maximum number of chat participants to 12 on Android and iOS. In the next few weeks, it’s also bringing this feature to the browser, where it will work for anyone with a Google account.

Google also launched a new ad for Duo. It’s what happens when marketers work from home.

#android, #apps, #conversations, #google, #google-duo, #google-hangouts, #mobile, #mothers-day, #operating-systems, #tc, #telecommunications, #web-conferencing

0

Google is making Meet free for everyone

Google today announced that it is making Meet, its video meeting tool for businesses that directly competes with the likes of Zoom, available for free to everyone. Until now, you could participate in a Meet call without being a paying user, but you needed a paid G Suite account to start calls.

You won’t be able to schedule free Meet calls right away, though. Google is opening up access to Meet to free users gradually, starting next week. It may take a few weeks before everybody has access to it.

After September, free accounts will be limited to meetings that don’t run longer than 60 minutes, but until then, you can chat for as long as you want. The only other real limit is that meetings can’t have more than 100 participants. You still get screen sharing, real-time captions and the new tiled layout the company introduced only a few days ago.

Users will need a Google account to participate in meetings, though, which isn’t likely to be a major barrier for most people, but it does add more friction than simply clicking on a Zoom link.

Google argues that in return, you get a safer platform, not just because it’s hard to guess meeting codes for Meet (which makes “Meet-bombing” a non-starter), but also because Meet runs in the browser and is hence less vulnerable to security threats.

“With COVID, video conferencing is really becoming an essential service and we have seen video conferencing usage really go up,” Smita Hashim, the Director of Product Management at Google Cloud, told me. Because the need for these tools continues to increase, Google decided to bring Meet to individual users now, though Hashim noted that some of this had been on the company’s roadmap before.

“We are accelerating what we are doing, given the crisis and given the need for video conferencing at this point,” she said. “We still have the Google Hangouts product but Google Meet availability we are accelerating. This is a newer product designed to scale to many more participants and that has features like closed captioning and those kinds of things.”

So for the time being, Hangouts for consumers and also Google Duo aren’t going away. But at least for consumer Hangouts, which has been on life support for a long time, this move may accelerate its deprecation.

Clearly, Google saw that Zoom caught on among consumers and that Microsoft announced plans for a consumer edition of Teams. Without a free and easily accessible version of Meet, Google wasn’t able to fully capitalize on what has become a breakout time for video conferencing tools, so it makes sense for the company to make a push to get this new edition out of the door as fast as possible.

“From a leadership perspective, the message was really: how can Google be more and more helpful,” Hashim said when I asked her what the discussion about this move was like inside the company. “That was the direction we got. So from our side, video conferencing is the product which is really hugely accelerated usage and Google Meet in particular. So that’s why we first launched the advanced features, then we did the safety controls and then we said, okay, let’s accelerate some of these other features, but we kept seeing that need so it felt like a very natural next step for us to take and make it available to all our users.”

In addition to free access to Google Meet for everyone, Google is also launching a new edition of G Suite, dubbed G Suite Essentials. This new edition, which is meant for small teams and includes access to Google Drive, Docs, Sheet, Slides and, of course, Meet, will be available for free until September 30. After that, Google will start charging, but as Hashim told me, the company hasn’t decided on pricing yet.

For enterprise users, Google is also adding a few perks through September 30. These include free access to advanced Meet features for all G Suite customers, including the ability to live stream to up to 100,000 viewers within their domains, as well as free additional Meet licenses without the need for an amended contract, and free G Suite Essentials for enterprise customers.

Google also used today’s announcement to share a few new stats around Meet. As of last week, Meet’s daily meeting participants surpassed 100 million, for example, and with that, Meet now plays host to 3 billion minutes of video meetings. Daily peak usage is up 30x since January. That’s a lot of time spent in meetings.

#cloud, #enterprise, #g-suite, #google, #google-drive, #google-voice, #meet, #web-conferencing

0

Verizon is buying b2b videoconferencing firm BlueJeans

US carrier Verizon* has splashed out to buy veteran b2b videoconferencing platform, BlueJeans Network — shelling out less than $500 million on the acquisition, according to the Wall Street Journal which first reported the news.

A Verizon spokeswoman confirmed to TechCrunch that the price-tag is sub-$500M but did not provide a more exact figure. Videoconferencing platform BlueJeans has raised ~$175M since being founded around a decade ago, per Crunchbase, with US investor NEA leading a Series E round back in 2015.

In a press release announcing the deal, Verizon said it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire the enterprise-grade videoconferencing and event platform in order to expand its “immersive unified communications portfolio”.

“Customers will benefit from a BlueJeans enterprise-grade video experience on Verizon’s high-performance global networks. In addition, the platform will be deeply integrated into Verizon’s 5G product roadmap, providing secure and real-time engagement solutions for high growth areas such as telemedicine, distance learning and field service work,” it wrote.

“As the way we work continues to change, it is absolutely critical for businesses and public sector customers to have access to a comprehensive suite of offerings that are enterprise ready, secure, frictionless and that integrate with existing tools,” added Tami Erwin, CEO of Verizon Business, in a supporting statement. “Collaboration and communications have become top of the agenda for businesses of all sizes and in all sectors in recent months. We are excited to combine the power of BlueJeans’ video platform with Verizon Business’ connectivity networks, platforms and solutions to meet our customers’ needs.”

The acquisition comes at a time when videoconferencing has been seeing a massive uptick in usage as white collar workers around the world log on to meetings from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Although it’s BlueJeans’ rival, Zoom, that’s been the most high profile name linked to the viral videoconferencing boom in recent weeks. The latter recently revealed that daily meeting participants on its platform jumped from a modest 10M in December to 200M in March.

However such booming growth and consumer usage has brought increased scrutiny for Zoom — leading to a spate of warnings (and even some bans), related to security and privacy concerns. And earlier this month the company said it would freeze product dev to focus on the laundry list of issues that have surfaced as users have piled in and kicked its tires, taking off a little of the shine off surging growth. 

On the sheer usage front BlueJeans is certainly small fish in comparison to Zoom — having remained b2b focused. A BlueJeans spokeswoman told us it has more than $100M ARR and over 15,000 customers at this point. (Some notable users include Facebook and Disney.)

But it’s paying users that are likely of most interest to Verizon. Carriers generally haven’t been able to translate increased usage during the pandemic into a revenue growth story — as a result of a combination of fixed costs, debt and market disruption that’s been hitting their shares during the coronavirus crisis, per Reuters.

“The combination of BlueJeans’ world class enterprise video collaboration platform and trusted brand with Verizon Business’ next generation edge computing innovation will deliver highly differentiated and compelling solutions to our joint customers,” said Quentin Gallivan, BlueJeans CEO, in a statement. “We are very excited about joining the Verizon team and we truly believe the future of business communications starts today!”

BlueJeans co-founder Krish Ramakrishnan has a history of exits, selling a couple of his previous startups to networking giant Cisco — where he has also worked, in between spinning out his own companies.

Verizon said today that said BlueJeans founders and “key management” will join the company as part of the acquisition, with BlueJeans employees set to become Verizon employees immediately following the close of the deal — which is expected in the second quarter, pending customary closing conditions.

*Disclosure: Verizon is also TechCrunch’s parent company

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