Ask Ryan: What Are Some Easy Non-VR Alternatives to Zoom for Our Social Hangouts?

As my blog becomes more and more popular over time, I often receive questions from my readers about social VR and virtual worlds. In many cases, I think the questions—and my answers!—are worth sharing, so I have decided to start up a brand new category of blogposts, tagged “Ask Ryan“. Every so often, I will post a query and attempt to provide the best, most comprehensive answer I can.

Recently, I got the following message from Gavin via my Contact Me page:

Hi Ryan, I came across your website while researching Zoom alternatives. I don’t own a VR headset (although I would very much like to) and neither do many of my friends. I think we all agree that while Zoom is serviceable as far as work meetings are concerned, it’s a terrible option for social hangouts. In my mind, the issue of proximity is key. At a real party, multiple conversations can take place simultaneously. People are able to focus on one speaker by using proximity. The use of avatars seems like a pretty obvious fix. The question is: which app/software is doing this best already? Most of my friends aren’t gamers or techie types, so they would probably be turned off by anything in a highly stylized graphic environment. They also don’t own VR headsets and ease of use is critical. I’d like to just be able to text then a link or ask them to download a free app on their phone to make it work. I’ve been searching high and low for the ideal app that meets these criteria but just can’t seem to find it. What would you recommend? Thanks for your help!

—Gavin.

Glad you asked, Gavin!

One non-VR platform you should definitely look at is the new High Fidelity*, which is a two-dimensional flat-screen app with three-dimensional audio that is perfect for your needs! You and your friends will probably have to use headphones or earbuds to really appreciate the spatial audio, which I’m sure you already have. The sound also falls off as you move away from the speaker, allowing you to break off into small groups and have many smaller conversations taking place at once. Here is their website, where you can learn more about the product.

Another platform you should investigate is Mozilla Hubs, which like the new High Fidelity runs completely in your web browser. You don’t even need to set up a user account to use Hubs! Here are all my blogposts tagged Mozilla Hubs.

Finally, there is a brand new, procedurally generated virtual world called Jel, which is also completely browser-based and would probably also suit your needs nicely.

Two avatars chatting in Jel

There are certainly many other virtual worlds you have a non-VR mode which could use for socializing, such as Second Life, Sinespace, VirBELA, etc., but they are not as quick and easy to use as these three platforms I have mentioned. Second Life, in particular, has a notoriously steep learning curve compared to the simplicity of Jel, Mozilla Hubs, and the new High Fidelity.


*not to be confused with the now-shuttered social VR platform High Fidelity, which required a high-end virtual reality headset connected to a Windows PC with a good graphics card

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