Spike Video Chat is a great new free option for group video conferencing

I’ve been a fan of Spike’s Email program since I found out about it (and when it was called “Hop”.) See “Hop: how instant messaging should have been done decades ago“. Basically their Spike product turns regular email into a fully featured instant messaging platform with similar features to Whatsapp, Slack, etc., without the need to force everyone you communicate with into using those other apps too. It’s a freedom-friendly method of upgrading email & internet communications.

Anyway, now Spike has another product called Spike Video Chat which is meant to be a simple, secure web-based application for group video calls. This comes at a time when the COVID-19 Coronavirus has caused many people around the world to stay home instead of interacting and socializing with others in real life in order to slow the spread of the deadly virus. It also comes at a time when the Zoom.us video conferencing service has become very popular, but has also revealed itself as being a security and privacy nightmare where hackers can easily steal video recordings, email addresses, etc.

Spike Video Chat is actually based on an excellent open-source video conferencing server that we wrote about a couple times before (see: “How to have a Safe Video Call Party while Quarantined“) called Jitsi Meet. Anyone can deploy a Jitsi Meet server themselves or integrate it into a more advanced product if they want. Spike has modified it quite nicely to make something that’s even easier to use.

How to use Spike Video Chat

Spike Video Chat is much easier to use than Zoom, Google Hangouts, WebEx, etc. It’s about as easy to use as Jitsi Meet, and that’s a good thing.

Step 1, go to https://video.spike.chat

Enter a name, meeting topic, and tap “Create New Meeting”.

In Step 2, you’ll allow permission for the website to access your camera and microphone, and the web app will confirm that the two are working. Click “Join Video Chat Meeting” and you’re in.

That’s right, there was no sign up, no log-in, no personal information collected other than my initials (although like all websites, I’m sure your IP address could be logged). Hackers can’t steal your personal information if you don’t type it into anything.

Step 3 is to add people to the video conference. The “+” button inside a circle is what does that. Pressing this copies the URL link to the meeting so that you can paste it into whatever other messaging app you want to use. The “Email invite” button will put the link into an email for you using whatever your default email program is.

When participants click the link, they’ll get the same “Join Video Chat Meeting” interface that requests permission for the site to use your camera & microphone. Then they’ll join the video chat right in the web browser.

There are buttons to mute the audio, mute the video, or share your screen, and the “X” button will close you out of the video chat.

Security

Zoom has become famous for its popularity and it’s terrible security. Jitsi Meet has always been a little better at security since it doesn’t require or collect any personal information, and Spike Video Chat does the same thing.

Spike Video Chat also adds SRTP encryption for the transport of video streams. If you’re only video chatting with one other person, the system creates a direct peer-to-peer encrypted connection. That means none of the data goes through Spike’s servers. Once you add more people, it’s not possible to do a direct encrypted connection between multiple users, so it has to use Spike’s video bridge server. So that’s slightly less secure since your calls are going through a 3rd party, but this is kind of the case with everything, even plain old phone calls.

Spike Video Chat limitations

I know what you’re thinking… what’s the catch?

Do calls only last 40 minutes like the free Zoom.us accounts? Is it limited to only 8 people like Houseparty? Does it track all my data and send it to Facebook like Zoom? Does it send info to Google?

Nope, Spike Video Chat doesn’t have any of those limitations or gotchas. I see no connections to Google or Facebook in the code, and (just like Jitsi Meet) there are no hard coded limitations to the number of people who can join or the length of time that you can be on a call.

What about software downloads? Do I have to install a program on my Mac that bypasses the administrator protections and hackers can use to remotely control my computer like Zoom.us does? Do I have to download apps from the Apple App Store on iOS or the Google Play Android store?

Nope! That’s another good thing about Spike Video Chat and one of the improvements it has over Jitsi Meet. With Jitsi Meet, everything works without software downloads in desktop browsers, but on phone apps, it pushes you to download the Jitsi Meet mobile app. Spike Video Chat has removed that requirement! So Spike Video Chat works in iOS Safari browsers as well as Google Android Chrome browsers right away with no software download just by using the WebRTC standards. This is a very welcome improvement over other video chat apps!

There has to be some limitations!

Ok, yes there are. Spike Video Chat does not have all of the extraneous features that you’ll find in Zoom.us, Houseparty, or Jitsi Meet. It’s a much more simplified video chat service. The simplicity makes things easier, but there are a good number of things that you can’t do.

For example, you can’t assign a moderator and mute everyone else. You can’t kick other people out of the chat. You can’t do text based message chat or direct messages. There’s no indicators for participant connectivity speed. There’s no fake background images or blurry background filters. There’s no legacy telephone call-in option. There’s no start-as-muted option. Screen sharing doesn’t work on mobile. There are no view layout options. There’s no streaming to YouTube option. There are no video recording options (which is good since if you don’t record it, hackers can’t steal it like they do with Zoom.us.)

So if you’re a school teacher or a business that wants to be able to manage lots of participants in a video conference, Spike Video Chat doesn’t really have the features to make that a good experience. However, if you’re stuck at home avoiding the virus and you want to see a bunch of friends to have drinks together and chat or play some cards on playingcards.io, then Spike Video Chat is a really good option.




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