What Is Zoom and How Does It Work?

Get to know this popular video conferencing app

If you sometimes work remotely or need to take part in online calls with co-workers, clients, or other business associates, you have probably encountered Zoom. Zoom is a web conferencing platform that is commonly used for audio and/or video conferencing. It is designed for one-on-one or group calls, and sessions can be recorded to view later.

Zoom is one of the largest online meeting tools in use today, with some experts estimating that the company has about 13 million active users. The user base grew by two million in 2019, but had already added 2.22 million more in just the first few months of 2020. If you've never used Zoom before, it's quickly becoming difficult not to be exposed to the service by colleagues who are using it to stay connected remotely. 

Man using a web conferencing service on a laptop
 Getty Images / filadendron

A Brief History of Zoom

Zoom was founded in 2011 by Eric Yuan, a former Cisco executive. Cisco offered the WebEx web conferencing platform, which remains a competitor in the conferencing space today. The Zoom platform evolved quickly; the service launched in 2013 and had a million users by the end of the year.

By 2017, the company had a billion-dollar valuation. It became a publicly-traded company in 2019 and has grown into one of the biggest video conferencing solutions in use today. Currently, research shows that Zoom is the most commonly used conferencing tool, leading to similar solutions like Skype and Google Hangouts.

What Is a Zoom Meeting?

Though Zoom offers a lot of products and services to enterprise organizations, including Zoom Rooms (which are conference rooms running dedicated software to make conferencing easier), video webinars, and even phone systems, Zoom's core product and the way most people know the service is Zoom Meetings. Zoom Meetings are the audio and video conferences that allow two or more people to communicate online.

Zoom Meetings happen in the Zoom app, and can be started and shared by anyone; these meetings can even be started for free via the app, if you have it installed, or via the Zoom web site.

How Does Zoom Work?

You don't need a paid subscription to start using Zoom. In fact, if someone else sets up the Zoom Meeting and invites you, all you need to do is follow the instructions in the email invitation to start using Zoom. You'll need to click a link to install the Zoom app, and then enter the conference code to sign into the meeting to which you've been invited.

To start your own Zoom Meeting, you'll need a Zoom account, which you can create for free. Go to the Zoom web site and click Sign Up, It's Free at the top of the page and follow the instructions. Once completed, you'll be able to start your own meetings.

 Zoom offers several Zoom Meeting plans. Basic is free and lets you host meetings with up to 100 participants, with a limit of 40 minutes per meeting. You can also have an unlimited number of one-on-one meetings. All of these meetings can be audio-only or video conferences. Even at this free account level, you can record and save your meetings, share your desktop with the meeting attendees, and use chat tools during the meeting.

If the fairly generous features of the free Basic plan are not enough, it's possible to pay for Zoom Pro, Zoom Business, or Zoom Enterprise, each of which adds substantial additional features, like the ability to conference more than 100 people at a time and extending the meeting duration past 40 minutes (in fact, a meeting can be up to 24 hours long).

Zoom in a Nutshell

Zoom is one of many web conferencing tools, but it has grown quickly in popularity in part because it offers a lot of capabilities for free, and also is well regarded as a reliable, high quality conferencing tool that works easily and effectively. Most people will encounter Zoom simply through a meeting that has been set up by someone else, but it's available for you to use as needed, at no cost.