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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

3 cool ways bug-sized robots are changing the world

(TECH NEWS) Robots are at the forefront of tech advancements. But why should we care? Here are some noticeable ways robots are changing the world.

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Bits of robots and microchips changing the world.

When we envision the robots that will (and already are) transforming our world, we’re most likely thinking of something human- or dog-sized. So why are scientists hyper-focusing on developing bug-sized (or even smaller!) robots?

Medical advances

Tiny robots could assist in better drug delivery, as well as conduct minor internal surgeries that wouldn’t otherwise require incisions.

Rescue operations

We’ve all heard about the robot dogs that can rescue people who’ve been buried beneath rubble or sheets of snow. However, in some circumstances these machines are too bulky to do the job safely. Bug-sized robots are a less invasive savior in high-intensity environments, such as mine fields, that larger robots would not be able to navigate without causing disruption.

Exploration

Much like the insects after which these robots were designed, they can be programmed to work together (think: ants building a bridge using their own bodies). This could be key in exploring surfaces like Mars, which are not safe for humans to explore freely. Additionally, tiny robots that can be set to construct and then deconstruct themselves could help astronauts in landings and other endeavors in space.

Why insects?

Well, perhaps the most important reason is that insects have “nature’s optimized design”. They can jump vast distances (fleas), hold items ten times the weight of their own bodies (ants) and perform tasks with the highest efficiency (bees) – all qualities that, if utilized correctly, would be extremely beneficial to humans. Furthermore, a bug-sized bot is economical. If one short-circuits or gets lost, it won’t totally break the bank.

What’s next?

Something scientists have yet to replicate in robotics is the material elements that make insects so unique and powerful, such as tiny claws or sticky pads. What if a robot could produce excrement that could build something, the way bees do in their hives, or spiders do with their webs? While replicating these materials is often difficult and costly, it is undoubtedly the next frontier in bug-inspired robotics – and it will likely open doors for humans that we never imaged possible.

This is all to say that in the pursuit of creating strong, powerful robots, they need not always be big in stature – sometimes, the tiniest robots are just the best for the task.

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Tech News

4 ways startups prove their investment in upcoming technology trends

(TECH NEWS) Want to see into the future? Just take a look at what technology the tech field is exploring and investing in today — that’s the stuff that will make up the world of tomorrow.

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Woman testing VR technology

Big companies scout like for small ones that have proven ideas and prototypes, rather than take the initial risk on themselves. So startups have to stay ahead of technology by their very nature, in order to be stand-out candidates when selling their ideas to investors.

Innovation Leader, in partnership with KPMG LLP, recently conducted a study that sheds light onto the bleeding edge of tech: The technologies that the biggest companies are most interested in building right now.

The study asked its respondents to group 16 technologies into four categorical buckets, which Innovation Leader CEO Scott Kirsner refers to as “commitment level.”

The highest commitment level, “in-market or accelerating investment,” basically means that technology is already mainstream. For optimum tech-clairvoyance, keep your eyes on the technologies which land in the middle of the ranking.

“Investing or piloting” represents the second-highest commitment level – that means they have offerings that are approaching market-readiness.

The standout in this category is Advanced Analytics. That’s a pretty vague title, but it generally refers to the automated interpretation and prediction on data sets, and has overlap with Machine learning.

Wearables, on the other hand, are self explanatory. From smart watches to location trackers for children, these devices often pick up on input from the body, such heart rate.

The “Internet of Things” is finding new and improved ways to embed sensor and network capabilities into objects within the home, the workplace, and the world at large. (Hopefully that doesn’t mean anyone’s out there trying to reinvent Juicero, though.)

Collaboration tools and cloud computing also land on this list. That’s no shock, given the continuous pandemic.

The next tier is “learning and exploring”— that represents lower commitment, but a high level of curiosity. These technologies will take a longer time to become common, but only because they have an abundance of unexplored potential.

Blockchain was the highest ranked under this category. Not surprising, considering it’s the OG of making people go “wait, what?”

Augmented & virtual reality has been hyped up particularly hard recently and is in high demand (again, due to the pandemic forcing us to seek new ways to interact without human contact.)

And notably, AI & machine learning appears on rankings for both second and third commitment levels, indicating it’s possibly in transition between these categories.

The lowest level is “not exploring or investing,” which represents little to no interest.

Quantum computing is the standout selection for this category of technology. But there’s reason to believe that it, too, is just waiting for the right breakthroughs to happen.

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Tech News

Will AI take over copywriting roles? This tool hopes to make that a reality

(TECH NEWS) CopyAI hopes to give copywriters a run for their… well, WPM. But how much can AI fully replace copywriting skills?

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Hands typing on a laptop, working on copywriting piece.

Copywriting is an important trade. Writers are often able to breathe life into otherwise formulaic websites peddling products which, sans the copy from those writers, might very well suffer a fate of relative obscurity. However, copywriters are also expensive, and their duties—indispensable as they may be—can be replicated fairly easily by little more than basic machine learning.

The question is this: Can AI replace copywriters? That’s a question that CopyAI hopes to answer with a resounding “yes”.

CopyAI is an “AI powered [sic] assistant for writing and brainstorming marketing copy.” This makes it a powerful tool to complement human writing, at the very least; is it enough to put people like me out of a job?

From my experience with the tool, no—at least, not yet. CopyAI can’t create an engagement strategy, respond to customers, spin testimonials to evoke heart-felt reactions, or analyze its own trends.

But that doesn’t detract from how freaking cool it is in practice.

CopyAI asks for very little from its user. Upon selecting a style of copy—Facebook Market, website carousel, or even page header, for example–you are prompted to enter the title of your product and a couple of short sentences describing it in the context of your ad. CopyAI does the rest, and while the results can be hilariously out of touch, you’re able to pick the ones that sound the most like your desired copy and then generate more options that sound similar.

The service has a huge number of different options for advertisement types, and you can use multiple different copy projects in one specific campaign.

Naturally, CopyAI has a few flaws, most of which replicate the problems we’ve seen with machine learning-based writing in the past: It doesn’t sound quite human enough to be comfortable. However, that’s a problem for a skilled copywriter to solve—and quickly, thus making something like CopyAI a potentially preferable choice for mass copywriting.

So, again, we ask: Is there a way for CopyAI to replace copywriters entirely in the future? Probably not. The copy it produces is intriguing, and often close enough that underfunded campaigns might find some value in using it short-term, but it doesn’t have the punch that a real person can pack into an advertisement.

That said, combining CopyAI with a small team of copywriters to reduce burnout—and repetition—could make for some very efficient work on the back end.

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