Zoom may have the lead, but the video chat wars have only just begun

Linda J. Dodson

Expect tech companies to dedicate substantial engineering and lobbying effort to winning the video chat wars​

The entrance to Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters is marked by a 10ft sign featuring the social network’s famous thumbs up icon. But as employees drive out of the car park at the end of their day, they are greeted by something else.

Facebook’s offices used to belong to Sun Microsystems, which was once one of the world’s pre-eminent tech companies before it became bloated and complacent, falling into decline, then selling to one-time rival Oracle in 2009. When Facebook moved into its old headquarters two years’ later, Mark Zuckerberg ordered that the Sun logo, cracked and fading, remained on the back of Facebook’s sign – a daily reminder of the dangers of sitting on one’s laurels.

Zuckerberg runs his company with a healthy dose of paranoia. The company was almost permanently scarred by its failure to anticipate the rise of smartphones and, as a result, it obsessively searches for the next big tech trend. Facebook has paid teenagers to install software that tracks the apps they use, spent billions of dollars buying potential rivals – or if they refuse to sell, cloning their features – and invested billions in new areas such as virtual and augmented reality.

But despite its best efforts to become future-proof, Facebook failed to spot the rise of one rival.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, video calling app Zoom has exploded. Last month, it revealed that it now has 300m meeting guests a day, despite several damaging revelations about the service’s security. Perhaps no tech product has entered such widespread use in as short a timespan.

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