The best free ways to be social while self-isolating

We’re all stuck at home

Well, most of us are anyway. And after a while, things get a little lonely. Even if you have folks at home with you, and even if you really like them, it can be a huge relief to see other faces. To hear from family and friends. To be social.

Luckily there are lots of ways to put your face in front of someone else’s. Over the last several years these tools have gotten much easier to use, more reliable, and MUCH more affordable. Below are 6 options for being social while you self-isolate.

Social apps you probably already know

Facebook Messenger

  • Up to 8 people in a video chat
  • Available on virtually any device
  • Easy to use for non-technical people

Over 2 billion people use Facebook so there is a good chance the folks you want to connect with are already there. While Messenger started out as a way to text each other, it has become a pretty reliable video platform as well. Messenger supports free video calls with up to 8 participants.

What’s App

  • Four people per video call
  • Your international friends are probably already using it
  • Not the prettiest app out there

If you don’t live in the US, chances are you use WhatsApp to keep in touch with friends and family instead of using text messages. While a lot of Americans haven’t adopted this messaging app yet, it is a solid choice for video calls with up to 4 people. It is free to use and there are well-tested apps for both Android and iPhone. If you want to use your computer for video calls though, Whatsapp is not for you. Their web and desktop versions don’t support video calls yet.

Work apps that can serve double duty

Skype

  • 100 hours of calls per month for free
  • Works for bigger groups
  • Not as easy to use as other tools

Skype is one of the best-known names in video calling and the free version allows for 100 hours a month usage (each call is limited to 4 hours). It runs on most computers and phones. Just be ready to give your less technically savvy relatives a little bit of an assist in getting set up. Installing and creating accounts can be a bit intimidating for some.

Zoom

  • One of the easiest to use services
  • Works for groups up to 100
  • One on one calls can last forever, group call limited to 40 minutes

If you haven’t been on a Zoom call for work yet, you may have heard them mentioned on the news. Their stock price has actually risen 25% since we all started staying at home. That’s because it is a very reliable, dead-simple video conferencing service. Their free plan offers an unlimited number of video calls that can have up to 100 people in them. If you have more than 2 participants, the calls are limited to 40 minutes. A one on one call does not have a time limit.

The biggest advantage of Zoom is its ease of use. As the host, you simply send a link to all the folks you would like to join and there is a pretty good chance that they’ll be able to. Even your aunt Ethster who can never figure out “that technology stuff”. Zoom works on pretty much any device you have laying around. Phones, computers, tablets, you name it.

If you are finding the free version too limiting for some reason, a Pro account is only $15 a month (only $12.50 a month if you pay for the whole year) and removes the meeting length limits along with some other administrative features. One of the best values in the industry.

Honorable mentions

There are plenty of options out there for seeing friends and family virtually. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. But there’s no reason you can’t find a way to have a face-to-face with someone you’ve been missing.

Houseparty

Houseparty is an app intended to let you come together to play silly games and have fun. Not for a serious heart to heart talks, but it can be a nice getaway from the daily craziness.

Discord

If you are a gamer, you probably already know about Discord. Although it’s not for everyone, it does offer video calling and if you have a little bit of time to devote to setting it up it can be a great place to get together.

FaceTime

FaceTime has become so commonplace that I think a lot of people forget it’s even there. If everyone in your circle is rocking an iPhone, FaceTime is still the king of easy video calling.

Google Hangouts

Its been around so long people have kind of forgotten about it. But if you have a Gmail account, you have Hangouts. And Hangout video calls are still a quick and easy way to connect with a small group.

Don’t let social distancing make you a stranger

We are living through unprecedented times. No one really knows how long we will be keeping to ourselves or what the consequences may be. But one thing has become obvious very quickly. Humans are social animals and we need contact with others. Luckily we live in a time where even in this most bizarre of circumstances we can connect with people for work, play, and support without leaving our homes. Take advantage of the miracles we find in front of us every day. Reach out to someone and keep that human connection alive.

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