Throughout 2020, amidst the global pandemic that has shut down workplaces, schools and several major events, there has been a move to online communication. For students, that move has meant holding classes on Zoom rather than in person, and sparked a debate over whether or not it’s the most effective platform for students and classes to use while there are other platforms – such as Discord – that are available.
When initially launched on May 13, 2015, the platform Discord was intended to be used by gaming communities to keep in contact with secure servers. It's free to use and compatible with Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux and web browsers. Despite it originally being marketed to gaming communities, since the start of the pandemic, Discord has shifted its marketing to a broader audience who want to keep in contact with friends and colleagues. The original motto of Discord was changed in March 2020 from “Chat for Gamers” to “Chat for Communities and Friends,” and currently boasts over 100 million active users each month.
The basic functionality of Zoom and Discord are similar, considering they both use video-based chat, but despite their similarities, their formats vastly differ. Discord combines text chat, audio chat and video chat all in one, and the main draw of the app is that it offers distinct servers and communities that users can receive notifications from and join. Zoom is more specialized in web conferencing and cloud-based communication. Zoom beats out Discord at 300 million active users per day, where Discord stops short at 14 million active users.
But why is Zoom the top choice for Orange Coast College or any California Community College for that matter?
Before online classes became the norm, they were a helpful way for students to take classes from home without having to come to classes or interrupt their work schedules. Which is why the decision to use Zoom over other applications was made far before COVID-19 struck.“The choice was made years prior by the chancellor of the California Community College System,” said John Taylor, Dean of Library and Learning Support. “Zoom cost nothing due to a grant from the Chancellor's office, and they pay all the fees to use the program.”
The grant was awarded in 2001 by the name of CCC Confer. The grant pays for a licensed version of Zoom that students can use, called Conferzoom, which is accessible through Canvas for California Community Colleges to use.
“My experience on Zoom has been mostly frustrating,” said Xandra Ewing, an OCC psychology major. “There’s no way to locally adjust people’s volumes, or even mute them for that matter, so there are frequently times when people’s mics will either be too loud or too quiet and no one but the professor has the ability to change that.”
One of the common issues that professors face is the threat of Zoom bombing, which is when hackers or online trolls interrupt Zoom classes with loud noises intended to distract students. While Discord also faces a similar threat of server raids, where a large group of users takes over a server, it’s easier to report and stop in comparison to Zoom bombings.
Sam Tyrrell, an OCC psychology major, also holds the sentiment as Ewing.
“I’d describe my experience as unsettling because most of the time, Zoom doesn’t work and sometimes the mute fails and entire classes hear or see some very disturbing things from what I’ve seen,” he said.
People forgetting to use the mute feature on Zoom often tends to be a problem for students in large lecture classes, forcing professors to mute everyone.
“I prefer Discord over Zoom because you can have chat rooms that are reliable to get into and much more convenient then entering Zoom’s passcodes every time you have to get into class,” Tyrell said.
While there are several students who recognize the advantages of Discord, some students still prefer Zoom’s functions nonetheless.
“When it comes to screen sharing and audio, I’ve never had issues with Zoom, it has all been pretty simple to use on my laptop,” said Bingo Martinez, an early childhood development major. “I’ve heard of some classes being accessed through Discord, but with my experience using Discord outside of classes, I can’t imagine that working smoothly. Whenever I’ve used Discord for screen sharing, I’ve had issues with my audio not connecting properly and videos being too blurry to show.”
For getting Discord to work smoothly, there seems to be an entire online community of users who post in forums to help others, as well as articles that are regularly updated to help other users out.
“I only use Discord to talk to friends while playing video games, since that was what it was made for,” said Sophia Williams, a film and television major. “Honestly, I think Zoom is more practical for schools since it’s simpler and gives the teacher and students an opportunity to virtually see and interact with each other.”
Ever since the beginning of the lockdowns in March 2020, both companies have made pivots in their marketing strategies. While Discord is trying to open their doors to a broader audience, Zoom is rapidly expanding what they offer to accommodate the new limelight the application has received.