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As coronavirus shifts user habits, tech firms try to upgrade experience

Shruti Shekar
Telecom & Tech Reporter

Companies managing major apps and online tools will now have a “boost of creativity” in developing better user experiences as people shift their habits during the COVID-19 pandemic, experts say. 

Richard Lachman, an associate professor at Ryerson University, said in an interview that many applications are now being used by different demographics in ways that differ from their original purpose.

Zoom (ZM), a platform that is typically used for enterprise video conferencing, is now being used by non-working individuals to connect with friends and family, he said. 

Lachman said that new users with different goals give companies an opportunity to tweak their product to improve the user experience. 

“If my 10-year-old is using it, they want the virtual backgrounds right there because they’re going to spend 45 minutes putting themselves in space,” he said. “But when I login the next morning, I’m still in space. [Companies will be] finding these little tweaks that are not massive shifts.”

Lachman said now is the perfect time for companies to capitalize on this moment and make their platforms better. 

“The idea is we’re fixing, we’re tweaking, we’re changing, we’re improving. And right now there’s a massive user test case,” he said. “What is amazing is how many platforms have been scaling well to deal with the numbers of people on it.”

According to a JP Morgan analyst, daily Zoom usage was up more than 300 per cent after the pandemic forced more people to work from home. 

The company’s active daily user count was also up 378 per cent compared to the same period a year ago. 

On Monday, Zoom’s shares dropped eight per cent as the company battles security concerns and competition from other platforms. 

Lachman indicated that companies will also face lots of criticism if certain aspects of the platform do not meet the public’s standard. 

“I have seen pushback. For example, what does end-to-end encryption mean, for this particular piece of software? Should I be using this, because maybe this platform is not secure?”

Platforms reminding users of existing tools 

Now will also be the time that many platforms will remind users of features that already exist, as Jane Manchun Wong, a social media feature leaker and researcher, said in an interview. 

“For example, on Instagram, they’re testing to move the video call button to the chat list,” she said. “They’re trying to remind the users ‘Hey, we do video chats as an option as well.’”

Facebook indicated in a blog post that it was seeing unprecedented usage because of COVID-19 and that it was monitoring “usage patterns” in order to make its systems “more efficient and adding capacity when needed.”

Jeff Goldenberg, co-founder of Abacus Agency, said that a metric for companies to watch will be how much time is being spent on different screens to determine “advertiser potential.”

He noted that people were already using these platforms heavily before the pandemic, citing that one in four minutes on cellphones is spent on a Facebook-owned platform, and now that is expected to increase even more. 

“Now people are definitely using it more, but [these companies] already had plenty of user data before. Their user experience development is always on and they scour data and insights to come up with improvements that would lead to more ‘time in app,’” he said in an emailed response.

With files from Reuters

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