Zoom is having the best time ever, except when it isn’t. The Zoom Experiment, which is being watched by everyone, is like watching the story of a successful company using time lapse photography.
Before the COVID-19 crisis triggered a global lockdown, the people at Zoom were looking at 10 million active daily users in December 2019. Now they are looking at 200 million active daily users. This figure can reasonably only increase over the next few weeks and months.
That kind of growth, most of it within a month, is a perfect case study of what normally takes a year or two at least.
The Zoom Experiment can be mapped onto several of the successful companies of today. Facebook grew active daily users at huge cost, until it hit a critical mass, somewhere around 100 million and pulled the trigger that turned it into a commercial and then (some might say) anti-social, network.
Zoom is having to support millions of extra daily sessions without immediately being able to monetise them. Millions of people around the world will book Zoom sessions that will last for 39.5 minutes. They will wave goodbye and raise a glass seconds before the free forty minute period is up.
That kind of scalability is a huge challenge and normally planned for – or at least hoped for – over a much longer period. It is a testament to Zoom and the provision of capacity from the cloud, which is now slick enough to support that huge spike in demand.
Even so, there are bugs. Zoom had to stop development to work them out, while trying to keep up with demand. Sound familiar?
Then there are the hackers, who love a winner as much as the next guy. Zoom has become a juicy, compelling target. A few days ago, the FBI’s Boston office issued a warning about security and privacy issues with Zoom meetings and SpaceX has now banned staff from using it.
This must also sound familiar and although the company is racing to fix the problems, by that time, it might be too late. That said, implementing overly strict privacy and security protocols can never be a bad thing.
So, what happens in the Zoom Experiment, our case study, when things go back to their new normal? It is a question that reflects our whole world.
Some of the people who used it for free may continue to use it for free, sometimes. Schools might continue to use it, sometimes. The number of active daily users will fall sharply – but how far?
A significant number will have taken out subscriptions. The free publicity Zoom is receiving can do it no harm at all, even with privacy and security issues. The increased revenue will allow it to increase development of its entire platform (parts of which drive some people insane).
A fair percentage of the global workforce will now work from home, by preference and common sense.
The whole affair will benefit Zoom and the entire ecosystem that supports and enables communications and remote working, and life.
The thing is that humans work better, at every level, face to face. Even an experiment on British TV, to air the current affairs comedy show ‘Have I Got News for You’ via a Zoom-like platform, was a weird experience when the celebrities appeared on big screens. The interaction was stunted and false and it, frankly, failed.
The Zoom experiment will be discussed and used in colleges and business schools for a long time to come, as the encapsulation of what happens to companies when they suddenly become extraordinarily successful. What happens when ‘the music stops’ remains to be written.