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These apps work for every video chat occasion

Social worker Gina Figge of Christian charity the Arche, or Ark, waves to schoolgirl Leyle during an online homework lesson in the Hellersdorf suburb of Berlin, Germany, Thursday, April 2, 2020.
Markus Schreiber, Associated Press

Whether you need to connect for a business meeting, a family hangout or a game night with friends, there’s a video chat option for you.

With most of the world participating in a stay-at-home lifestyle these days, video chatting has become more popular than ever. Statista has numbers from Priori Data reporting that video chatting platforms Skype, Houseparty and Zoom have each seen global downloads surge by more than 100% last month.

And while there are lots of options out there to connect via video chat, some work better than others depending on the purpose of your virtual get-together.

Android users may have Google Duo pre-installed on their devices and iPhone users all have FaceTime already on their phones. You have likely used one of these interfaces before. But, if your friends, family and colleagues don’t live in the same tech universe, there are video chat options that can work on both operating systems.

For big groups, there are two video chat options that rise above all others, and Microsoft-owned Skype has been around the longest. The free version allows up to 50 people on a video call and gives you all the time in the world with a lengthy limit of four hours per call. You can share your screen, record the HD video chats, save and share them. Skype works with Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Android, Linux, Xbox and Amazon Alexa devices. Priori Data reports Skype had 59 million daily active users in March, compared to 4.3 million for Zoom, the other hot option.

People downloaded Zoom nearly 27 million times in March, way up from just two million times in January. Its free version allows double the participants Skype allows, but these sessions can’t last more than 40 minutes. Zoom gives you the option of creating a virtual background, so — while it can sometimes be glitchy — you can pretend you’re videoconferencing from the beach or the mountains instead of your neglected guest bedroom.

Zoom also allows screen-sharing, meeting recording and generating transcripts. Zoom videos are HD and work with Mac OS, iOS, Android and Windows. You may have heard about some Zoombombing episodes where hackers have jumped into virtual meetings and flashed inappropriate images. There are settings you can adjust to minimize the chances of this happening, including using the “Waiting Room” feature, using a per-meeting ID instead of a personal one and locking your meeting once everyone is in.

For friends and family who don’t want to try something new, Facebook Messenger may be the best choice. They likely already have a Facebook login, so using Messenger won’t seem like too big of a jump. It allows up to 50 people in video calls with no time limit, and it’s easy to connect. Just open the app, select the person you want to video chat with and tap the camera button in the upper right-hand corner. If you want to chat with a group, do the same with a group chat. Messenger makes it fun by allowing live effects like stickers, GIFs and camera filters.

If any video chat app is having a heyday, it’s Houseparty. Fortnite developer Epic Games bought the app last year and has to be thrilled with its skyrocketing popularity, especially in Europe. In Spain, during the the week of March 15 through March 21 of this year, App Annie reports Houseparty had 2,360 times more downloads than its weekly average. And in Italy, downloads surged 423 times the level of average weekly downloads in Q4 of 2019.

Eight people can video chat at once and can simultaneously play trivia and Pictionary games or Heads Up!

As a parent, if you allow your kids to use the Houseparty app, one thing to note is friends or friends of friends can pop in to any video chat or game unless it’s locked down. A best bet would be to turn on private mode which locks down every chat group they enter. The app also defaults to a setting that automatically alerts friends when you open the app and notifies you every time one of your friends opens their app. You may want to turn those notifications off and turn off your location while you’re at it.

In our current state of quarantine, social distancing may leave us wanting face-to-face communication any way we can get it. These video chatting platforms can help us scratch that itch, even though it may be through a screen.