The sooner that people who are thinking about replacing Zoom realize that the problem isn't one of software but of infrastructure, the better.

The reason Zoom works so well on a technical level is that they have a lot of infrastrutcture to support the downmixing of streams- including a ton of processing power, as well as very good bandwidth between their data centers.

You could build an equilvient program, but without the hardware and connectivity behind it, it won't be as good.


Before I'm misunderstood- I'm *not* suggesting that we throw up our hands and use Zoom.

Instead, I'm suggesting that we need to start realizing that simply building software isn't enough. Projects like Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap and Signal work because they're backed with hardware and bandwidth.

If we want a Zoom replacement, we'll need to ensure there is money to pay for the necessary components to pay for its infrasturcture and ongoing maintence.

Decentralization or self-hosting might then be the answer. But that requires people to care about how their computers work, which is not really the biggest trend now unfortunately... :(

Also note that things such as mumble exist with plenty of servers and are libre. But I have seen people telling me it is too complicated to use compared to discord. Mhhh.


You could easily self-host a program that does what Zoom does, but you'd also need to have the same high power machines to do the video processing, and you'd need the bandwidth.

What Zoom is doing that makes it work is downsampling and combing the video streams into one stream, which is much easier for a regular computer to handle.

You'd need a very powerful machine, and a very good connection with lots of bandwidth and low latency to handle so many AV streams.

Oh okay I did not know zoom worked this way, I never even tried to use it, thanks for explaining! That sounds like a crazy use of computing power just for sending not-so-useful video though...

@emacsen @pauloss Do you know if any self-hostable software can do that? Anything we can install?

Yes, it is more expensive to run than consumer home computers, but I'm sure there's plenty of small orgs who'd be able to afford that for themselves.

@ebel The short answer is "I don't know".

More importantly, though, this is not for the feint of heart.

Here are a few resources to look into and you'll see why:

Here's a short video:

A short article:

And some slides:

And some thoughts about FLOSS tools:

It looks like it *could* be done, but AFAIK we don't have it now.

@ebel @emacsen @pauloss Be sure to take a look at Big Blue Button. Squirrely to install, but it's not far from the Zoom experience.

@emacsen @pauloss The big issue that I've had with p2p style conferencing is that it doesn't handle mixed bandwidth users in the conference.

Some host needs to be down sampling and have a big enough pipe to take all the data in and send the appropriate bitrate out to each user. I've only seen hangouts and zoom do this well.

I'm sitting, right now in a zoom meeting of 12 people on a very slow DSL connection but am having no issues communicating with my coworkers.

@pauloss @emacsen What about the GNOME decentralized app, Jami (aka gnome-ring). I didn't try it (I don't have a camera anyways...)

@emacsen or, you create something like Tox, which only needs clients and a DHT.

@emacsen I feel similarly about chat protocols. IRC happens to work the best for me due to its overall simplicity and good infrastructure provided by Freenode and friends. The next best thing after that are single-server instances (Mattermost, Rocketchat) and proprietary services (Discord, Slack, Whatsapp). Then, by a wide margin, follow networks of self-hosted servers that communicate with each other (XMPP). The biggest difference between them and the commercial offerings is that the infrastructure isn't kept in check by a team of full-time engineers.

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