Are you confused by all the video apps out there? Streaming vs group chat? Should you give out your bank details for tips? This guide will hopefully shed some light on which to use and when to use it.
Is this seat taken?
First thing. Think about your audio and video setup. If you can use a decent microphone and a camera better than the one built into your computer.
The simplest fix is to use headphones that came with your phone. Most have a microphone built in. Plug those into your device and that’s a good start. If you want a better setup get a podcasting microphone. The general rule is to stay as close to the microphone as possible to get the best results from it. Games developer and podcaster Shahid Kamal Ahmad has some great tips on recording audio. On the 200th episode of Upgrade podcast Myke and Jason discuss their setups for podcasting.
If you’re going to do stuff at a distance maybe think about a lav clip on mic and a long cable. Getting a pop filter will help with those harsh p-p-p-p words.
If you can get a webcam that shoots 1080p. An alternative option is hooking up a modern stills ,camera that can also shoot video, to your computer.
Think about background. Don’t have it be too cluttered or even cluttered. If possible make sure you have a bookshelf in view so people know you’re educated even if you’re doing outdoor gardening tips. Outdoor bookshelves are a thing right?
Think about lighting. If you can don’t use horrible indoor yellow lighting that turns you into an umpa-lumpa seconds after a nuclear explosion. Try and use natural lighting but nothing too contrasting. By that I mean don’t sit by the window in the sun. You’ll only be squinting and there is a good chance that your camera will not be able to handle the high contrast of bright human and dark room. What I’ve found with my iMac is the software exposes for the room meaning that I have no face. Stay in the shade.
Try and balance the light. See how things look with room lights on and off. You might find with the room lights on you get a yellow tint to the video. It might be worth turning them off or if possible change the colour temperature so it is cooler / bluer. If you’re using a computer with a big screen make sure that most of the screen has a blank white window on it. Like the Google homepage. It’ll be nice big white light on your face.
The following tools are more for chatting in groups of people and less about a 1 to many audience show like teaching a baking class or yoga class. For that you’ll want a streaming video service. Think of it this way. You invite your friends round to your house (Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, FaceTime, etc) because you trust them with your personal information. A random audience you will want a level of protection between you and the audience so you use a streaming service where people can only interact with you when you are streaming. They can’t just call you up.
Ya’ll know Zoom I assume? Everyone has been talking about it around the water cooler (fridge). It’s a highly popular and easy to use application or “app” that allows you to chat with friends or random groups of people you wouldn’t normally be caught dead with unless they were paying. It is multi-platform so anyone with a modern phone, computer or tablet can use it. Free accounts are limited to 40 minute calls with more than 3 people.
Unfortunately Zoom has had numerous privacy and security issues over the years it has been in use. I myself experienced some American students “hacking” (I use the term loosely there as it was an open un-password protected public conference) into a Zoom call I was watching and they replaced the main screen with porn. It is super easy. Barely an inconvenience. They are taking steps to secure the platform and address the privacy issues.
If you want to use Zoom then you need to take some steps to protect yourself.
- Make sure the app is up to date – Google how to update apps on your platform of choice
- Never share the meeting ID on public platforms
- Generate a random ID for each meeting
- Password protect each Zoom conference / call you do
- Share the password securely not via email
- Use the “Waiting Room” feature – allows the host to screen people joining
I personally have Zoom installed but only on my iOS devices as that is a more secure platform than my Mac.
A nice feature of Zoom is you can configure it so only the absolutely necessary people are on the Zoom call while pushing the feed to a YouTube channel for your audience to watch. I would recommend that as not only is it a secure way of doing the webinar (ugh what a word) it also allows you to build a following on your YouTube channel. You can also live stream to Facebook.
Alternate video group chat tools
If you’re in any way concerned about the issues with Zoom then there are alternatives. Google Meet and Skype have been around for a long time and while they aren’t as fancy as Zoom with its spiffy custom backgrounds to let you webinar from inside the Death Star they are solid.
Google Meet is really very simple. It’ll work over the web so you don’t even need to install anything. Google Meet is free until 30th Sept and is capped at 100 users with no time limit. On 30th Sept they will introduce a time limit of 60 minutes. We’ll all be in the pub by then though, obvs.
You will need a Google account to join a meeting. You can’t stream directly to YouTube, oddly.
Skype is the go to application for podcasters. It’s been around for over a decade. Tried and tested. It is limited to 50 participants instead of the 100 that Zoom offers. It can blur your background if your bookshelf has things on it you don’t want people to see (Manspreading for dummies etc).
A reason to use Skype is you can create a free meeting, get a link and share it with anyone. Simple. You don’t even need software. Zoom and Google require accounts to be created before hand as that helps block space invaders. Remember not to share that link publicly though or you will possibly get invaded by young white men looking to assert their privilege.
If you’re an iOS / MacOS user with iOS / MacOS family and friends then Apple’s FaceTime is a no brainer option. Secure. Simple. Built in to every phone and tablet. You can even use Animoji’s to make it weird. It’s a solid fun platform for group chat but iOS / MacOS only and limited to 32 people. Would you like to know more?
Discord is Slack (which is IRC for designers) for gamers. You can create your own Discord server and setup channels inside for various topics.
So you make a server. Make some channels and then you can create a voice or video chat. It’s mainly there to allow gamers to chat while gaming. If you are already on a Discord with friends then that’s cool. I wouldn’t go ahead and create a whole server just to do group video chats though. Unless you’re finally done with Facebook and want a fun place for you and your friends to hangout without your parents and advertising companies looking at your posts.
Yeah WhatsApp is like Apple Messages with FaceTime functionality but owned by Facebook so it is slowly becoming evil. It does have the ability to do video chats but limited to 8 people.
Messenger is like WhatsApp and also owned by Facebook. Apparently you can use it without a Facebook account which is nice. It will allow you to do video calls too. Using Messenger’s “Rooms” feature you can host calls with up to 50 people.
There are other choices. Many other choices.
What would I chose? I think my first choice would be FaceTime. For something platform independent I think more people are going to have a Google account than a Skype one so I would probably choose that. I have the luxury of not needing Zoom but if I do I’ll run that on a secure system like iOS.
What if you just want to shout at your audience and not look at their chicken-esque faces? Good news! You can with streaming sites like Twitch or YouTube. Facebook has Live joined in on this and there are other services like Mixer for game streaming.
Both Youtube and Twitch have fun community perk features allowing you to have membership levels for your audience. Things like emotes and visual effects per channel help create a sense of community around a streamer and their personality. You can also save your videos there to build up a library for newcomers.
The downside to streaming via these platforms is you’ll need to use an application called OBS if you want to get the best from the platform. You can’t just open an app on your phone and stream. OBS is complicated.
Twitch is the gamers platform of choice. The site is mainly organised by game and by popularity. If you visit in May 2020 you’ll see Animal Crossing, Euro Truck Simulator, Grand Theft Auto and so-on. There are also non-gaming categories like ‘Art’ and ‘Just chatting’ for such activities.
YouTube is basically the same as Twitch for streaming but if you already have an audience there or perhaps prefer the interface then chose YouTube.
If you just want to live stream a walk or a cooking session from your phone then you’ll need at least 1,000 subscribers before you can do so. Bum 🙁
Facebook Live is a nice and simple way of streaming to your friends or a page. It’s built in to the Facebook app so no third party tools needed.
Instagram Live is part of the Stories feature in the Instagram app. You can easily do a live stream of whatever you want from your phone. A nice walk in the park? Baking tips? Sure!
Periscope is sort of like Instagram Live. I think it came first and was supposed to be part of Twitter. Honestly I forget its a thing. I never see anyone link to it. You do you though.
If I’m at my desk I’ll use Twitch. I love the raid feature allowing you to send your audience to a friends channel when you’re done with them. It’s great for everyone involved. I’ve found a lot of new people to follow this way.
If I’m out and about I’ll use Instagram Live.
Show me the money!
As an independent your boss, you, is going to pay you. So how do you pay yourself? You get others to give you their money so you can pay yourself. There are a few services that can help.
Do NOT share your bank details with people. If you can make sure you have a layer of protection between you and your paying customer.
Ko-fi and Buy Me A Coffee
Ko-Fi and ‘Buy Me A Coffee’ are basically the same thing. They idea is people can tip you the price of a coffee for your service. Live streaming a new video game? People can buy you a coffee as a way of saying thanks. You can custom things so it could be “Tip me a beer” or “Tip me a mortgage”. Whatever suits you.
Patreon works a little different. It’s more of a membership site where people pay for various levels of access. You set the prices and what they get in return. You can set it up to offer a monthly subscription of a tip in return for whatever you generally do so it works similar to Ko-Fi or BMAC. Generally though it’s a monthly subscription. The subscriber may get monthly phone wallpapers, avatars, poems, musical things, etc.
I’m setup on Ko-Fi as I didn’t want to go the route of a monthly subscription service for my audience. I am setup on Patreon in case I find a use for it but for now I’m happy for people to buy me a coffee via Ko-Fi.
Hopefully that gives you a good introduction to all these tools. I know there’s a lot of choice. Just remember who your audience is, friends / family or strangers. That will give you a direction to go in.