Gillmor Gang: In The Bag

This may be counterintuitive. I hope so. I remember the day I first started using Twitter. My friend Gabe Rivera suggested it would be a good idea to sign on to the fledgling network. Basically it was a land grab — claim the real estate of my name. I most likely was aware of the fundamentals of the new service, but wary of actually making some sort of overt splash. Why would I want to, as the frame of the day went, announce what I was having for lunch?

But I knew Gabe was right; I should get in line for the day it became clearer what good this was for. As Professor Irwin Corey would say Adam first said to Eve: stand back, I don’t know how big this is going to get. So I did, and sat back for almost a year. Eventually some thread caught my eye, or my ego encouraged me to think somebody might be interested in what I was having for lunch. That led to a series of discoveries we all made about how this thing might work, if it could just not crash from its unscalable neo-scalable scripting language roots.

One of the most interesting things to do in those early days was to misuse the network for creative purposes. If the logic of posting was to deliver meaningful content that would be of interest to larger audiences, we knew where that was headed. Celebrities, verified accounts, a triple A version of the big leagues of mainstream media.Logical maybe, but not what I was interested in. To the contrary, I relished the exact opposite, an experience where the result was something other than what we already had. One trick I had was to talk conversationally to the tiny audience of those I was pinging with their username.

This may or may not have predated the @mention, but the intent was to send a message to someone who was notified of the attempt by a notification. Alternatively, following a small but targeted series of accounts created a stream of posts from people who shared some implicit common interests. Either way, eventually these @mention clouds became a rich source and object of breaking news, jokes, and a stew of social energy. I enjoyed the occasional response, and would reply in place as though I was having a private chat. The theory went: if this annoyed people, they would unfollow me and be happier for it. Many did, and were.

Skipping ahead to now, I still use Twitter in this way for the most part. I set my notification stream to display a subset of my follows, first around 50, then 100, now upwards of 4 or 500. It is annoyingly disruptive of the top of my screen; reading an ebook book is an intermittent experience at certain hours waiting for the stream to slow down when I’m trying to read the first couple of lines of a page. But what I get is an almost subliminal collage of random stuff from a not-so-random group of what reminds me of a coffee house circle of friends in college days. The major news media breaks through repetitively when someone dies or succeeds, but also there are the mutterings of entrepreneurs and thought leaders, captains of industry who relish the direct channel, politicians of the digital underground, comedians, culture cowboys and cowgirls, right, left, and centrist.

It’s a living breathing thing, and it’s different from everything else. Facebook is what you think of it, but I’m sadly grateful for its function as the glue between family, friends, and a shared personal history. Never mind that it’s impossible to find something once it flits by. I hate it yet appreciate it nonetheless. But Twitter is an imperfect pacemaker in my chest, beating with the pulse of the nation, the notifications starting in Europe, then the East Coast, finally the Valley and Hollywood before I get sidetracked by reality and over the hill to the next day.

As Michael Markman quotes Jerry Seinfeld on this Gillmor Gang episode, “It’s never in the bag, and you’re never out of the running.” Yes, Trump dominates the service, and every other network as we careen toward the election. Twitter fills in some of the pandemic’s gaps in traditional campaigning. Some are good with Twitter; some are not. But when the shouting’s over and the ballots counted, Trump may or may not be left standing. Twitter surely will. Just don’t call it Shirley.

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Friday, September 11, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the notification feed here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

As COVID-19 era drags on, VCs look beyond Zoom calls for due diligence and sourcing

While the coronavirus has accelerated the dealmaking pace for many early-stage startups, activity has not come without adaptation.

Remote investment struggles for investors were clear from the get go: it’s challenging to invest millions in someone you have never met, and there’s not a lot to learn from “off-the-cuff” conversations that are calendared days in advance. Some investors said the pandemic was forcing them to stick with people they know in categories where they have experience, limiting the network that one can push money into.

Over six months into a global pandemic, though, new techniques are emerging to address some of these woes. The very art of a deal, from due diligence to sourcing, is changing from a cultural and technological standpoint.

One of the new places that recreates informal bonding and camaraderie is Matchbox.VC, formerly Fortnite.VC.

The service connects founders and investors over video games to network and source deals in a low-stress environment. Matchbox.VC was inspired from a tweet by Founders Fund principal Delian Asparouhov and has garnered interest from investors like Arjun Sethi from Tribe Capital, Ryan Shea, the ex-founder of Blockstack, Jake Chapman from AlphafundVC and Peter Rojas from Betaworks. Its last game night was backed by Yac, Tribe Capital and Shrug Capital.

The pitch is simple: founders and investors sign up on the website, answer basic questions about their focus, company and stage before picking three game choices from eight options that include Fortnite, COD: Warzone and Valorant.

Gillmor Gang: Table Stakes

I quite like the iPad Pro 11 inch with the Magic Keyboard. In the Land of Pandemic, where every day is Saturday, the tablet is king. With no real purchase on the chaotic flow of life, the rules — any rules — of the road are very dear to me. Structure is arbitrary but mandatory. Strategy is Niagara Falls: slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch. What exactly do I mean?

First, the tablet is a strange beast. Caught between the laptop and the phone, you’d think it would be a constant compromise. It’s not. Each time I add a step to the workflow, it re-cements itself as a coherent whole. In a world ruled by the next notification, context switches are disruptive; hand-offs are not. One minute the iPad is a media grazer. The phone rings. Answering it on the Watch frees me from the tether, answering on the iPad offers a click of the phone icon in the upper left to move to the phone.

I know it sounds a bit nuts to explain or even discuss, but add up the iterative improvements of this platform and you achieve some real productivity. Not the enterprise kind, nor the media hacker kind, but the palpable sense of progress in fashioning a place in this new digital world. Slowly but surely I’ve moved process after process to the iPad Pro. Gillmor Gang production, or more precisely editing, mixing, rendering, posting, annotating, testing, now all on the single device.

To begin with, I decided to junk Final Cut Pro as the editing platform, simply because it ran only on the Mac. It’s much more powerful than its replacement, LumaFusion, but once I plug the software into the iPad, it lights up the improved features of iOS 13 and the Files app. The Magic Keyboard peripheral adds a USB connector to plug in an external drive, and while it’s a bit of a trudge to get it to work almost like OS/10, soon it’s easy to move files over from Zoom on the Mac where the camera is positioned better in the center of the display.

I used to doubt Apple would provide remedies for these weird design gotchas, like the camera on the side of the display in landscape mode. The Magic Keyboard doesn’t let you position the iPad in portrait mode, and it wouldn’t work anyway with Zoom in 16:9. But then again, the keyboard cases up until the Magic Keyboard don’t support backlit keys. Now the iPad Pro is my main writing tool, its slightly underpowered keyboard winning out over my MacBook Air. The Magic Keyboard is expensive ($300), but Apple’s attention to detail reinforces my commitment to the evolution of the platform.

The Keyboard’s trackpad is similarly goofy in its implementation, sitting uneasily between the touch platform of the screen and the keyboard alts and text editing precision of the Mac. You learn quickly how to navigate between the two worlds, however, intuiting that future implementations should build on the elements of the hybrid that work. I’ve followed the press musings about the future of Mac OS and iOS, but now I’m growing comfortable with the assumption that inexorably the shift in power has tipped over. Perhaps it’s the price performance in the move off of Intel to Apple’s in-house chips.

Or perhaps it’s the feeling that momentum patches problems out of a desire to keep locked in to the process flow of modular apps and services. I’m using Quip to write this, knowing the iPad version doesn’t yet provide a word count feature like the Mac version does. So I went searching for Apple’s bundled Pages app and got the answer. My assumption is that these common services will soon become table stakes.

Beneath the tech veneer, the iPad reminds me of the power of directed evolution. As trivial as a backlit keyboard seems in the overall scheme of things, that Apple knew all along what the blocker was on this platform augurs for the future extensions we know are coming in this Work From Anywhere moment. Not just the big ideas but the little ones, that grow through steady adoption into giants of a shift necessary to contain unexpected catastrophes and minor scrapes of the regular kind. I wasn’t sure why I felt driven to spend so much time unifying my tools and strategies for virtualizing my computing experience. Now that we live full time in this moment, it’s these little things that count.

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Friday, September 4, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the notification feed here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

3 views on the future of geographic-focused funds

For many investors, the coronavirus has effectively taken geography out of the equation when it comes to vetting new opportunities.

While this dynamic opens up startups to more investment opportunities, venture capital firms that focus on a specific region are in a thornier spot. The competitive advantage they once had when raising — the notion that they’re focused on an area no one else is — is potentially threatened.

Natasha Mascarenhas, Danny Crichton and Alex Wilhelm of the TechCrunch Equity crew discussed the future of geographic-focused funds given the uptick of remote investing:

  • Natasha: Early-stage regional funds can win if they remain focused
  • Alex: Geo-focused venture funds will be weakened, but won’t die
  • Danny: Geo-focused venture funds are dead (and should never have existed)

Natasha: Early-stage regional funds can win if they remain focused

Since 2014, Steve Case and his team have made an annual bus trip across the country to meet startups in emerging startup hubs. Five days, five cities, and at least $500,000 of investment dollars given to startups. Case would even offer to fly out promising and hard-to-reach startups to have them join the trip.

The Rise of the Rest fund, with over $300 million in assets under management, has invested in over 130 startups across 70 cities, including Austin, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C.

3 views on the future of geographic-focused funds

For many investors, the coronavirus has effectively taken geography out of the equation when it comes to vetting new opportunities.

While this dynamic opens up startups to more investment opportunities, venture capital firms that focus on a specific region are in a thornier spot. The competitive advantage they once had when raising — the notion that they’re focused on an area no one else is — is potentially threatened.

Natasha Mascarenhas, Danny Crichton and Alex Wilhelm of the TechCrunch Equity crew discussed the future of geographic-focused funds given the uptick of remote investing:

  • Natasha: Early-stage regional funds can win if they remain focused
  • Alex: Geo-focused venture funds will be weakened, but won’t die
  • Danny: Geo-focused venture funds are dead (and should never have existed)

Natasha: Early-stage regional funds can win if they remain focused

Since 2014, Steve Case and his team have made an annual bus trip across the country to meet startups in emerging startup hubs. Five days, five cities, and at least $500,000 of investment dollars given to startups. Case would even offer to fly out promising and hard-to-reach startups to have them join the trip.

The Rise of the Rest fund, with over $300 million in assets under management, has invested in over 130 startups across 70 cities, including Austin, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C.

Facebook now lets you customize your Watch video feed with #Topics

Facebook’s video destination, Facebook Watch, is introducing a new feature called “Your Topics” that will allow you to tailor its feed to include more of the content you want to see. Currently, Facebook leverages its existing understanding of each viewer’s interests to personalize the Watch Feed. Topics, however, will allow users to more explicitly tell Facebook what sort of things they like by exploring and subscribing to various content categories.

The feature has been quietly rolling out to Facebook users in recent days, and now some portion of the user base already has the feature in their own Facebook app.

Among the first to notice the new addition was Twitter user @whimchic, who regularly spots updates and changes to mobile applications before they’re made public.

They were alerted to the feature through a pop-up within Watch on the Facebook mobile app, we’re told. Here, a message explained that Facebook will now focus on showing more of the videos related to the #Topics you follow.

“Due to the many different ways your Watch feed is determined and how videos get categorized, you may see videos in your Watch feed that you aren’t interested in,” the message also warned. “Some videos related to the #Topics or Pages you follow may not appear in your Watch feed,” it noted.

Image Credits: Facebook app, screenshot via @whimchic

If you have the feature, you can access it for yourself by clicking on the Profile icon in the Facebook Watch tab on mobile, then clicking on the link to “Your Topics” to browse the available categories.

The subcategories which you can actually follow or unfollow are grouped underneath broader category pages, like Animals, Art & Design, Books, Business, Education, Fashion & Style, Food, Games, History & Philosophy, Home & Garden, Music, Performing Arts, Science & Tech, Sports, Travel & Leisure, TV & Movies, and Transportation.

Image Credits: Facebook app, screenshot via TechCrunch

However, you can’t follow these high-level categories themselves — you have to click inside them to follow the individual topics. These can be very specific. For example, within Animals, you could follow #EndangeredSpecies or #GoldenRetrievers. Within Travel & Leisure, you could follow #TravelOceania or #WinterActivities. And so on.

But the subcategory listings are not comprehensive. Upon testing the feature within the Facebook app on my iPhone, a search for many other possible topics yielded no results. (What, no #Corgi videos?!) This, of course, could change in time as the feature is expanded.

Image Credits: Facebook app, screenshot via TechCrunch

Once you follow a topic, a message will confirm your choice and then the topic will appear under “Topics You Follow” in the Your Topics section of Facebook Watch.

From here, you can choose to unfollow the topic later on if you decide you want to see less of it in your feed. And if you want to watch only videos from a given topic, you can tap the topic to delve into a customized feed.

 

The feature is now one of several ways users can personalize and filter their broader Facebook Watch feed.

You can also filter the feed by Live, Music, Following, Shows, Gaming and more, by tapping on the buttons at the top of the screen or from the What’s on Watch category picker that shows up as you scroll further down the Watch Feed.

Facebook also adds groupings like its editorially curated “Get Caught Up” section with videos from paid partners, or those groupings that are more algorithmically sorted, like the one with videos that got the most “HaHa’s” or “Loves” this week, or those that are popular with friends.

Image Credits: Facebook app, screenshot via TechCrunch

The new feature could make Facebook Watch more competitive with YouTube, where there’s historically been a heavier focus on connecting users with individual channels to subscribe to. But YouTube has also embraced Topics in its own way, with broad categories like “Gaming” and “Fashion & Beauty” that are now a part of its main navigation. And it puts personalized topics at the top of the home page directing signed-in users to categories of videos they tend to watch.

Twitter, of course, has its own Topics feature, too, which showcases top tweets that match a particular interest. These may or may contain videos, however.

Reached for comment, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed the addition of Topics, saying “we’re working on more ways to connect people with videos that match their interests.” No further details were provided.

 

Gillmor Gang: Platforming

 

Much was made during the Republican Convention of the lack of a party platform. The media characterized this as a capitulation to the Cult of Trump phenomenon, but the questioned begged was: so what? If you’re running as a candidate to disrupt the status quo…. But beneath the media framing, an important question emerges. What exactly is the platform we need to emerge from the toxic situation we find ourselves in?

For months, if not years, the technology industry has been working on a new platform to succeed the previous one. Mobile would seem to be that fundamental shift from the desktop world of Windows and PCs. The twin dominance of powerful phones by Google and Apple has created a new language of notifications and streaming video perfectly timed for the devastating pandemic. Our devices are now the front lines for managing the struggle to stay alive for our loved ones, the economy, and our future.

Zoom is of course the poster child for all that it enables, and certainly what it doesn’t. The notion of work from home is more likely a question of what is home and what’s the difference with work? The routines of life are congealing around the interactions with phone, watch, iPad, laptop, and TV. When I wake up, the first dive is for the notification stream built up overnight from overseas and then the East Coast. The rhythm varies from day to day: intense on Monday as the weekend cobwebs dissipate, more issue oriented through the middle of the week, and finally a thank-god-it’s Friday feel. Email, text messages, media updates, and work calendar reminders.

And then there’s the outline of the new platform — live streaming notifications from what some call citizen media, or the influencer network, or the loyal opposition. That last one refers to the decline in trust of the mainstream media. Maybe it’s just me, but the cable model of host-driven cyclical repetition of the headlines, talking heads, and medical ads adds up to a trip first to the mute button and eventually the off switch. Which plugs me right back into the notification stream and a new contract with us based on whether we click on the link or even allow the notification in the first place.

And these new voices are networks of one or a few, broadcasting on a global reach pastiche of cloud services that begin with the ubiquity of Zoom and its click and you’re there ease of on boarding. Then there are the key networks of record as it were: Facebook Live, Twitter/Periscope, YouTube, and maybe LinkedIn if you’re Brent Leary and got an early invite. There’s a whole bunch of streaming accelerators like Restream and StreamYard and Just Streams (I made that up) to use software and a dash of hardware to do what it took many thousands of dollars and cables just a few years ago. Right now it’s early days, but soon you’ll be seeing something that looks like the media it’s replacing as the OG buys in.

Don’t believe me? Just look at how streaming has disrupted the television industry. Or the music business. Or the reemergence of podcasting and newsletters. Or how messaging is growing rapidly as a preferred digital commerce and marketing channel. The pandemic has certainly had a devastating effect with the loss of theaters, events, and travel that drive so much of our economy and the emotional underpinning of our lives. But as we learn to respect the power of the virus to force this digital wave of transformation, we fuel the winners that emerge from a new hybrid blend of evolution and adaptation.

Technology has often been seen as impersonal and cold to the touch. But now we should be making friends with robots for touchless shopping, At the beginning of this Gillmor Gang session, Frank Radice seemed stunned by the administration’s takeover of the symbols of our Washington monuments for political purposes. By the end, he seemed more hopeful of a different result. We have more ways now of making our voices heard, broadcasting our own names in fireworks above and beyond the fake news and suppression. Our platform: suppress the virus, not the vote.

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Friday, August 28, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the notification feed here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook
…and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook

Our 11 favorite companies from Y Combinator’s S20 Demo Day: Part I

Startup incubator and investment group Y Combinator today held the first of two demo days for founders in its Summer 2020 batch.

So far, this cohort contains the usual mix of bold, impressive and, at times, slightly wacky ideas young companies so often show off.

This was Y Combinator’s second online demo day, its first all-virtual class and the first time that it held live, remote pitches. The event largely went well, with founders dialing in from around the globe to share a few paragraphs of notes and a single slide. There were few technical hiccups, given the sheer number of startups presenting.

But if you are not in the mood to parse through dozens (and dozens) of entries detailing each startup that showed off its problem, solution and growth, the TechCrunch crew has collected our own favorites based on how likely a company seems to succeed and how impressed we were with the creativity of their vision. For each entry, one staffer made the call that the startup in question was among their favorites.

We’re not investors, so we’re not pretending to sort the unicorns from the goats. But if what you need is a digest of some of the day’s best companies to get a good taste of what founders are building, we have your back.

ZipSchool and Hellosaurus

Natasha Mascarenhas

The next wave of edtech startups is entering a market that demands a better remote-learning solution for younger learners. But that’s the obvious product gap, one that is already being tackled by the biggest names in the booming category.

The non-obvious product-market deficit is how teachers, also impacted by the pandemic, are searching for new ways to interact with students. Teachers are collaborating and cross-pollinating on successful lesson plans that work across stale Zoom screens, so why not monetize that same content?

There’s no frontrunner to be found among the TikTok alternatives

The U.S. market has no real frontrunner poised to claim TikTok’s throne if the app is banned in the country. According to Trump’s executive order, TikTok’s owner ByteDance has to divest of TikTok’s U.S. operations or the app will be banned from the U.S. market on November 12. A number of companies have considered the TikTok deal, including frontrunner Microsoft, Twitter, Google and even Oracle, for some reason. But if a deal doesn’t get done, it’s unclear which app — if any — will be able to take TikTok’s place.

Instagram, of course, is clearly vying for TikTok users with the launch of its latest short-form video feature called “Reels.” But the addition has so far seen mixed reviews. Though it’s still early days for Reels, The New York Times rushed to call it a “dud” on arrival. Engadget, meanwhile, said the feature was actually a “worthy rival,” but it gets lost in Instagram’s bloat. Instagram also is not a direct TikTok clone. It’s become an all-purpose social network for photo sharing, viewing Stories, online shopping, live video content, long-form video (IGTV), private messaging and more.

It’s unclear if TikTok users will truly consider Instagram an alternative in the event that TikTok disappears.

There are a number of other apps that are more direct competitors to TikTok, as they also employ a similar vertical video feed format, focus on short-form video and offer a combination of editing tools and music that made TikTok so popular. The lineup today includes Likee, Byte, Triller, Dubsmash and Zynn, among other smaller players. But among these apps, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, there’s no clear leader.

According to data provided by app store intelligence firm App Annie, Singapore-based Likee had the largest number of weekly active users in the U.S. for the week ending August 8. (For context, Trump’s executive order was signed on August 6.)

Likee is very much a TikTok clone, unfortunately with ripped content aplenty, no less. App Annie reports it had 1.9 million weekly active users across iPhone and Android combined in the U.S. during the week of August 2-8, 2020. Likee has also steadily grown its weekly active users numbers and hit a high of No. 71 in overall downloads on iPhone back on May 27.

(Photo by Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The next two largest apps were Byte and Triller with 1.1 million weekly active users apiece, during the same time period of August 2-8. Both also briefly flirted with the top of the App Store charts as news of a potential ban made the headlines. This allowed Byte to reach No. 1 in overall downloads on iPhone on July 8. Triller then followed, briefly reaching No. 1 in overall downloads on iPhone on August 1.

Dubsmash trailed, App Annie said, with 800,000 weekly active users during August 2-8. It got as high as No. 10 in overall downloads on iPhone on July 9.

Meanwhile, despite reports of being filled with stolen content, TikTok clone Zynn had a decent showing. The app had 600,000 weekly active users during the week ending August 8. It hit No. 1 in overall downloads on iPhone on May 27, after seeing a bust of downloads and active users in late May.

However, Zynn doesn’t present a solution to the TikTok problem as it, too, is operated by a Chinese tech giant. The app was created by Owlii, owned by a billion-dollar Chinese company Kuaishou, which is the second-most popular video platform in China after Douyin (ByteDance’s name for China’s version of TikTok).

There are a number of lesser-known TikTok alternatives as well, including Lomotif, Funimate, Kwai, Firework and others. And there are video apps that focus on some aspect of TikTok, such as the live-streaming apps like Live.Me, Twitch and Caffeine, as well as social video chat apps like Squad, Houseparty, Murge and others. But none of these could be considered a TikTok competitor.

Snapchat is another big name vying for TikTok’s users, but it doesn’t yet have TikTok-like features launched publicly.

TechCrunch reported in July the app was testing TikTok-style navigation. Earlier this month, Snap announced it would soon test a feature that lets users set their Snaps to music, similar to TikTok, and had music licensing deals lined up to that effect. Given the overlap with TikTok’s Gen Z user base, Snapchat could do well here, but it seems in no rush to get this feature out, unlike Instagram. The company said it would begin the test the feature later this fall.

What could happen, instead, if TikTok were to entirely disappear, would be a fracturing of its user base across a range of competitive apps.

Already, there are signs of this happening. On news of the possible TikTok ban, a community of TikTok users who call themselves “alt TikTok” — a group that includes those known for their absurdist humor as well as gay TikTok, BuzzFeed reported — stormed Byte. The brief app store chart-ranking bumps seen by other apps like Triller and Dubsmash also indicate the TikTok community was hedging its bets by setting up shop on competitive apps just in case.

Of course, losing TikTok for good is a worst-case scenario. The hope for many fans of the short-form app is that the company sells the U.S. operations in order remain in this market.

Zoom UX teardown: 5 fails and how to fix them

Valued at over $60 billion and used by millions each day for work and staying in touch with friends and family, the COVID-19 pandemic has helped make Zoom one of the most popular and relevant enterprise applications.

On one level, its surge to the top can be summed up in three words: “It just works.” However, that doesn’t mean Zoom’s user experience is perfect — in fact, far from it.

With the help of Built for Mars founder and UX expert Peter Ramsey, we dive deeper into the user experience of Zoom on Mac, highlighting five UX fails and how to fix them. More broadly, we discuss how to design for “empty states,” why asking “copy to clipboard” requests are problematic and other issues.

Always point to the next action

This is an incredibly simple rule, yet you’d be surprised how often software and websites leave users scratching their heads trying to figure what they’re expected to do next. Clear signposting and contextual user prompts are key.

The fail: In Zoom, as soon as you create a meeting, you’re sat in an empty meeting room on your own. This sucks, because obviously you want to invite people in. Otherwise, why are you using Zoom? Another problem here is that the next action is hidden in a busy menu with other actions you probably never or rarely use.

The fix: Once you’ve created a meeting (not joined, but created), Zoom should prompt and signpost you how to add people. Sure, have a skip option. But it needs some way of saying “Okay, do this next.”

Steve O’Hear: Not pointing to the next action seems to be quite a common fail, why do you think this is? If I had to guess, product developers become too close to a product and develop a mindset that assumes too much prior knowledge and where the obvious blurs with the nonobvious?