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Free Zoom alternatives for the new remote work era

(TECH NEWS) Many small teams already work remotely but the COVID-19 outbreak has forced many more to do so, but how do you communicate without spending anything?

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Communicate with a small team

As more American cities go into lockdown or shelter-in-place orders, teams across the country are having to find new ways to communicate. Zoom is the most popular tool on the market right now, but for some teams it means a new expense that they are not in the position to make at this time. Contrary to what Twitter may have you believe, Zoom is far from the only video conferencing option on the market. There are options for every size team and many of them are free. You will have to sacrifice some of the snazzier features, but in a time when many are contemplating layoffs, every dollar saved helps.

Google Hangouts
In times of crisis Google has come through for its global user base. Starting last week, users will be able to access the advanced Hangouts capabilities for free. This means users will be able to hold meetings with up to 250 participants and livestream for up to 100,000 viewers. Google Hangouts also has the added bonus of being able to record meetings and save them to Google Drive. This could be an invaluable feature for team members who are need to work off-hours or evenings in order to accommodate childcare.

Discord
Discord has been a popular communications app among the gaming community for a long time. This powerful, free tool allows users to create “servers” that can be organized by topic. This is a great way to break up conversations about different projects so important points don’t get lost in a huge, never-ending chat stream. Each “sever” has the ability to do video and voice calls. Users can also pin a message to the top of a chat, similar to a pinned tweet. The video options are limited with only 9 people being able to be on a video chat/screen share at once. Still, if you have a larger company but only smaller teams need to video chat at once, this could be the one.

Facetime
Just because Facetime is the tool you use to talk to your grandmother and make silly faces at your nieces and nephews, doesn’t mean you can’t use it to communicate with your team. In fact, if everyone on your team is issued an Apple device, this may be your best option. Facetime is only for iOS and can support video calls of up to 32 people. Sometimes the simplest answer is the right one.

WhatsApp/ Facebook Messenger
Facebook owns WhatsApp and plans to integrate it with Messenger down the line. At present, they have similar enough interfaces that if you understand one, you’re set for both. This isn’t the most sophisticated option and it’s easier to set up if you are Facebook friends with the person, which might not be normal in your company culture. WhatsApp or a Facebook Messenger video call is a good alternative to Facetime if you need to have a one-on-one with a team member but one of you is not an Apple user.

Skype
While Skype does have an enterprise plan, the free option is just as good if you are trying to communicate with a small team. It supports up to 50 users on a single video call – not that you want everyone talking at once. This could be the perfect solution for small companies that need to have company-wide meetings to update employees as the current situation changes.

If your team is small and trying to keep the costs of adjusting to a remote work environment low, any of these free alternatives are a great choice. Decide what your team really needs in order to communicate effectively and get creative with the options available. There are so many chat and video tool available for free that any one, or a combination of some, could be exactly what your team needs to make it through this difficult time.

Staff Writer, Natalie Gonzalez earned her B.A. in English and a Creative Writing Certificate from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a writer and social media nerd with a passion for building online communities.

Tech News

Infinity Maps is the most mind-blowing visual workspace ever

(TECHNOLOGY) Infinity Maps is bringing together whiteboarding, diagramming, and real-time collaboration all in one neat tool.

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infinity maps

Digital tools should be effective and efficient. They should help you plan, create, and manage your projects so your team can build solutions to your overall goals. While many tools say they are the all-in-one tool solution, this is a pretty bold statement to make. Each company is different, and one size doesn’t necessarily fit all.

However, there comes a time when such a tool comes slightly close to filling that spot. Infinity Maps seeks to do this by marrying some of the best qualities of different tools and adding its spice to the mix.

What does Infinity Maps offer?

Whiteboarding
The web application is partially an online whiteboard tool. In your workspace, called Canvas, you create your content by using cards. In these cards, you can add text, images, and files. Cards can be nested indefinitely creating hierarchies while still maintaining a “clear and concise” structure. You can do this by simply dragging a card into another card.

Diagramming
To visualize how each card correlates to one another, you have the option to link cards with arrows. These arrows are further organized by changing the color of each one or changing the color of the card itself.

Real-time collaboration
Infinity Maps lets your team collaborate in real-time. To work together, you can invite users to your map. When you share your workspace, you assign people different roles so they have the correct permissions to read or write on your map. Like Google’s web tools, you can see who is using the map because each username will show up next to their cursor and be assigned a different color.

Zoomable interface
Navigating through Infinity Maps is easy and works just like Google Maps. By double-clicking, you are taken directly to the card you selected. You can also scroll up and down and use the trackpad to zoom in and out of your map. This feature is super helpful when you have hundreds of cards on your map.

Why Infinity Maps?
The company says Infinity Maps is a “revolutionary new product that allows you to organize vast amounts of information visually & spatially”. It is a combination of Miro, Notion, and Google Maps all into one.

“What are we doing differently?” asks Infinity Maps CEO & Co-Founder Johannes Grenzemann. “With Infinity Maps, we are building a knowledge management system that allows you to create vast, huge knowledge bases [that] depict high complexity and depth while staying mind friendly because it’s a visual approach,” Grenzemann said.

infinity maps templates

Overall, Infinity Maps is a neat knowledge tool. It can be used in several ways, from students trying to organize their thesis to startups managing their product launches.

If you’re interested in checking them out to see if they are indeed the all-in-one tool solution, you can sign up to start mapping. A free account gives you access to 3 maps, up to 150 cards per map, and 50MB of cloud space. If you need more space to map out your ideas, you can unlock additional cards by inviting a friend or purchasing cards. Pro, unlimited, and team subscriptions plans are also available for purchase.

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Tech News

China cracks down on user data collection, allegedly cares about privacy

(TECH) Either China’s government just grew a conscience, or they’re trying to compete on a global stage. Either way, they’re implementing new laws.

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china cares about privacy?

In an uncharacteristic looking move for end-user privacy and choice, China has passed sweeping new legislation entitled the Personal Information Protection Law. It’s set to take effect on November 1, 2021, and includes provisions governing consent in user data collection of tech applications and specifies how companies can use that data, especially if that data is to be transferred out of China.

This is the second of two pieces of legislation to emerge this year as China takes a hard look at their cyberspace and try their hand at oversight.

The Data Security law, which came into effect on Sept. 1, set classification frameworks for data based on “its economic value and relevance to China’s national security” as cited in Reuters.

According to experts, both laws will require companies to reevaluate how they collect and store data on a massive scale. As regulations continue to develop rapidly during China’s re-examination of their tech industry, companies are scrambling to meet the stringent new requirements and adjust their infrastructure for compliance at a break-neck pace.

Takeaways:

  • The Personal Information Protection Law similar in design to Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation
  • China’s top cyberspace regulator, Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), issued an investigation into Didi Global Inc, their version of Uber, with accusations of user privacy violations
  • An extensive set of rules targeting business practices that undermine fair competition, such as cultivating reviews, were implemented by China’s State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR)
  • 43 apps were accused of illegally transferring user data and called out by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and required to make “rectifications”

Similar cyberspace scrutiny is happening in the US regarding monopolies held by some of the biggest players in tech like Google, Facebook, and Amazon but is moving very slowly through the legislative process.

In terms of how this impacts Americans, TikTok is currently one of the single most downloaded apps in the US and owned by Beijing-based company ByteDance. According to The Sun, ByteDance is now the most valuable startup in the world with an estimated value of 1 billion USD.

Many doubt that China actually cares about privacy, but some believe that keeping up the appearance of playing by modern corporate rules benefits their government as they seek global dominance.

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Tech News

Apparently, the chip shortage is NOT easing up this year…

(TECH NEWS) If you’re a tech person who has tried to buy anything with a chip in it, you know there’s been a shortage and therefore a buying frenzy. Which apparently isn’t ending soon.

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microchip chip shortage

It appears that the chip shortage, a phenomenon that has plagued production for the last six or so months, is not easing up like people had initially predicted. The real-world effects of this shortage are varied, but impactful.

The Daily Brew’s Dan McCarthy reports that the average wait time for chip deliveries is up to over 20 weeks at this point, a number that (despite postulation that the second half of 2021 would see increased chip production) is higher than the wait times in both July and June of this year.

The chip shortage has a few different roots, but the primary one as of late is a slew of COVID-19 outbreaks in Southeast Asia – specifically near locations that produce large numbers of semiconductors for the rest of the world. It’s thought that the wait time will increase in the coming weeks, even as companies slash predictions and hunker down for a hit to their profits this season.

For context, manufacturers were having to wait for a little over 12 weeks for their semiconductors this time last year. It’s clear that we’re going in the wrong direction if we’re planning to keep up production going into this next year.

The implications of such a shortage range from baffling to sobering. Earlier this year, people struggled to find PS5s for reasonable prices; more importantly, though, is the effect this shortage is having on the automobile industry. A couple of weeks ago, Toyota announced a 40 percent cut in production plans for September.

With GM, Ford, Stellantis, and VW adding that they will most likely cut back on production as well, it looks like the 2022 vehicle market will be the latest casualty to lower-than-optimal supply in a time of moderate demand.

While the chips used in cars, appliances, and other common electronics are profoundly affected by the shortage, it appears that “power management” chips (the ones used in smaller devices, namely smartphones) have a decreased wait time from last month. This somewhat contradicts a shortage warning by Apple in late July, though we’re clearly not out of the woods regarding production efficiency yet.

It is extremely likely that this shortage will impact auto and appliance production in 2022.

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