Isolate Together: 6 Platforms to Help You Connect Online
From Zoom's group chats to Netflix's new party option, there are plenty of online platforms to help you stay connected as you practice social distancing. Photo: Antonio Saba/Getty Images
For generations that grew up without the internet, physical gatherings have always been preferred over online chats and video calls. But as the Canadian government continues to urge residents to self-isolate and practise physical distancing, it may be time to start cultivating social lives online.
The good news: it doesn’t have to involve posting quirky self-isolation videos or tapping the “like” button on an endless scroll of content on social media.
In fact, many online platforms and apps have made it possible to enjoy some of our favourite social activities online with friends.
Here are five options you can explore with friends and family online.
1. Netflix, Iso and Chill Together
If you’re missing the snarky commentary supplied at your regular movie nights and watch parties, Netflix may have the isolation-friendly solution you’re looking for.
Thanks to a new Google Chrome extension called Netflix Party, account holders can now get together virtually to watch a synchronized stream of their favourite movies or shows. The online gathering place is also equipped with a group chat, not unlike a Facebook or Whatsapp group, located just to the right of the action — perfect for philosophizing on an old classic like Pulp Fiction or mocking the contestants on Love Is Blind.
And in case you were wondering, as the host, you can choose to have full control over the pause, play, rewind and fast-forward functions. After all, more than one remote is just anarchy.
Here’s how to start your Netflix Party:
1. If you’re not already using the Chrome web browser, you’ll need to download it. Once you have, go to netflixparty.com, using the Google Chrome browser and click “Get Netflix Party for free!” This will redirect you to Netflix Party’s page on the chrome web store.
2. Click “Add to Chrome” and then click “Add extension” in the pop-up window. Netflix Party will then be added to the top right corner of your Google Chrome browser, next to the address bar, which will appear as an “NP” icon.
3. Make sure your friends have downloaded “Netflix Party” onto their Google Chrome browsers as well.
4. Using your Google Chrome browser, go to Netflix.ca, and play the show or movie you all want to watch.
5. Then click the “NP” button on your browser. You’ll have the option of making yourself the one in charge of pausing, fast-forwarding and rewinding by checking the “Only I have control” box. If you don’t, anyone in your party will be able to use these features.
6. Click “Start the Party” and copy the URL that appears. Send this URL to the people you want to join your party.
7. Once your friends open the link, they’ll need to log in to Netflix if they’re not already and hit the “NP” icon to open the group chat.
8. You’re now synced up and ready to isolate together.
2. Face-to-Face Social Distancing
Remember when video calls were the stuff of sci-fi films? Well, video chat and conferencing platforms like Google Hangouts, Skype, Apple’s FaceTime and Zoom have taken the technology a step further, allowing for multiple people to video-chat simultaneously.
It has come in handy during the COVID-19 crisis and not just for simulating traditional face-to-face group interactions.
Zoom, in particular, has become the go-to video-conferencing service for the isolated and quarantined, racking up 20 million downloads over the span of a week in late March.
The platform, which was typically used by workplaces and schools, now plays host to virtual happy hours, club-like dance parties and dinner parties.
The free version of the app allows up to 100 people to participate in a single video chat — more than enough space to host your entire crew. However, group conversations on the free version are limited to 40 minutes, while one-on-one chats are unlimited.
On paid versions of the service, group meetings max out at a time limit of 24 hours.
Perhaps its most attractive feature is how easy it is to invite friends into a video chat. Once a host creates a meeting, they simply share a link that takes friends directly to the chat. Even friends and family members who haven’t downloaded the Zoom app can join by entering the shared link in their browsers.
Unfortunately, some Zoom users have had meetings crashed by uninvited guests or “Zoom bombers” who share inappropriate content with the group. To keep them out, make sure you’re sharing the link privately via direct message, email or text and avoid sharing it on public spaces like Facebook walls.
Zoom also has a waiting room feature — found in account settings — that gives a host complete control over who can join the meeting.
Click here for more tips on how to secure your Zoom meeting.
3. A Little More Face Time
If you use an iPad, Mac or iPhone, FaceTime also offers a group video chat option that supports up to 32 participants. And since it’s built into your Apple device, there’s no need to download anything. However, you or anyone on the group FaceTime call will need to be running iOS 12.1 or later.
The easiest way to start a Group FaceTime video chat is to open an existing group chat in the Messages app, tap on the group of contacts at the top of the screen, then hit the FaceTime icon. This adds everyone in the group chat to the video call. To add anyone outside the group, simply swipe up, tap “Add Person” and enter their name.
Watch the video below for detailed instructions on starting a Group FaceTime call
4. Game Night
For those who need a little more stimulation than chit-chat has to offer, there’s House Party.
In addition to its video chat, the app allows guests to participate in various games, including trivia, the Ellen DeGeneres-inspired Heads Up, which is similar to Hedbanz and — one of our favourites on the app — Pictionary.
If you’ve struggled to compete against more artistically inclined opponents in past games of Pictionary, you might be in luck. In House Party’s version, players essentially finger paint on their tablet or smartphone screens, making for equally obscure — and often hilarious — drawings regardless of a participant’s artistic ability.
Once you’ve signed up, you can invite up to seven friends from your device’s contact list to your house party and click the padlock icon to block anyone from joining once you’ve started.
And, like game night, once you’re finished, you can stick around and chat awhile.
5. Build Bridges
For all those bridge players out there itching to get back on the table, there’s a way to connect with living, breathing players online. The Peterborough Bridge Club in Ontario, for instance, moved their tables to an online platform called Bridge Base Online (BBO), which hosts matches for the club three times a day.
If you’re more of a casual player, you can register for a free account on the BBO website and set up a virtual table with your real-life bridge group or find opponents and partners on the site. Each table is equipped with a chat function for socializing between hands as well.
6. Chip ‘n’ a Chair … and a Screen
Your poker nights don’t have to go by the wayside either. We know what you’re thinking: poker online just doesn’t have the same feel as the real thing. But one app called Poker Face: Texas Holdem — offered in Apple’s App Store and Android’s Play Store — may come close to the real deal, pun intended.
The app’s virtual table, where you can invite up to three friends, is equipped with a video chat so you can bluff, catch any tells and — most importantly — socialize throughout the game.