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Best Free Services for Group Video Chatting During the Pandemic



Zoom Meetings is a wildly popular videoconferencing solution that was previously mainly known by those who frequent board rooms and business-huddle rooms. Thanks to the social distancing that has become the norm during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom has entered the national consciousness.

With all the prohibitions against in-person gatherings, most business and education has moved online, and as a consequence Zoom’s users have has grown from about 10 million daily to over 200 million, according to the company’s blog. And it’s not just businesses, either. A free version lets any group create video rooms for people to socialize in. People are using it to stay in touch with families, hold book club meetings, and even host virtual parties. 

The Problem With Zoom

But it hasn’t been all good news for Zoom: The service has been criticized for privacy and security issues, and the term zoom bombingzoom bombing—when unwanted interlopers interrupt a group video session—has entered the lexicon. This has particularly been a problem for schools, some of which have actually banned Zoom

Zoom has been working hard to fix these issues, but if you’ve been put off by these missteps—or you just prefer another service for your personal video chatting, there are plenty of excellent choices out there, as you’ll see below. Note that we aren’t talking here about about business videoconferencing services—BlueJeans, GoToMeeting, RingCentral, Webex, and the like. PCMag has reviewed those extensively elsewhere. While several of those are currently offering expanded free service during the current stay-at-home health crisis, here we’re concerned with personal group video. 

Zoom vs. the World

Zoom lets free users conduct video meetings of up to 100 participants (with up to 49 visible at once) for a maximum of 40 minutes. Organizers can send a meeting link over messaging, email, or social network posts so that participants can easily join.

Some of the services below have lower participant limits, but most don’t cut your group off after a specified time. Paid Zoom plans start at just $14.99, increasing the time limit to 24 hours and adding a meeting recording feature.

All the services included below have free accounts for the public to use, but they vary greatly in functionality. Read on for the details on each—how many participants they allow, the platforms they work on, and their special features or requirements.

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