Zoom: For Video Chatting
By now, this one is probably a no-brainer, it’s a video conferencing app that’s practically hosting the entire world’s conversations right now. From family gatherings to drinking parties and university lectures, this straightforward, easy to use service has a free tier as well as paid options that offer a lot more freedom and longer chats. One of the most popular features of Zoom is the ability for users to change their video background. Even Studio Ghibli has gotten in on the Zoom hype, offering free, fantastical downloadable backgrounds for your next video chat!
The underrated sibling of Zoom, Whereby, is another video chat service that’s worth mentioning for those who want to avoid "technical difficulties" and logins as much as possible. To use Whereby, all you have to do is start a "/room," then send that link to the person you want to chat with. A click of the link and they can join the room with no login needed. Free chat time, unlike Zoom, is unlimited, but if you want to host a chat with more than four people, you will have to upgrade to the paid plan.
Missing movie nights with your friends? Well, Netflix Party is the next best thing. This free Google Chrome extension allows users to synchronize Netflix video playback features a group chat dialogue box. To start a Netflix party, click "Start Party" and share the party URL to invite your friends. You can customize your Netflix party by choosing different user icons and nicknames, as well as upload screenshots, emojis, and GIFs, making it one of the most fun but probably distracting social connection apps out there.
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For a while now, Twitch has been the go-to live streaming platform for gamers across the globe, but it’s now also getting plenty of mainstream attention (not that it was super niche to begin with). Musicians and DJs love the platform at the moment for its ability to stream reliably high-quality audio and video. While you can broadcast and watch endless live streams on Twitch, it’s also able to share group hangout live for that extra level of virtual connection.
One popular virtual group activity on Twitch is Jackbox, the game service that allows users to host group gaming parties through their Party Pack series. While Jackbox party packs aren’t free, it’s simple to use and designed for gamers and non-gamers alike.
This self-described "face to face social network" has been around for a while now, but it's experiencing an explosion of users in recent times as people across the globe find new and fun ways to reconnect. What makes this smartphone-centric video chat app special is its integrated collection of social games. Simple enough for even your grandparents to use, Houseparty hosts a range of classic party games like pictionary, and celebrity heads. It's great for families wanting to catch up and have a laugh, and the best bit is that if your family are prone to getting competitive or fighting on games night, you just log out and disappear.
This Korean app is far more popular in Asian countries than the western world, but it’s available in multiple languages, including English. ZEPETO is a little like The Sims meets Habbo Hotel, with high-tech audio integration and impressive digital artwork. In this 3D avatar-based social networking app, you can create your own custom character, or take a selfie and let the app create one for you, and dress up and join a virtual world. You can invite your friends to join the virtual ZEPETO community and hang out in private rooms, which include Japanese gardens, beaches, castles, and even underground subway stations. You can your virtual friends can dance, sing chat—both in audio and written form—take selfies in virtual worlds and even create an image of your virtual self in real life backgrounds using photos from your camera roll.
Virtual tabletops are getting into pretty geeky territory, but there’s no shame in being a nerd! More than a platform, virtual tabletops are a way to play board games online with others. There are as many virtual tabletops out there as there are board games almost, but there are also great platforms for playing tabletop roleplaying games as well; the increasingly popular Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Vampire the Masquerade, and more! If you never thought you’d get into the world of D&D or you simply didn’t have the time, this is one of the more accessible ways to give it a go, and you should, because locked up in your apartment what else have you go to do? As we said, there are a ton of platforms from which to choose, but one that is especially popular is Roll20.
The name of this game sounds like a weirdly accurate but unnatural Japanese to English Google translation or something. But it’s basically a virtual take on Cards Against Humanity—the rowdy, politically incorrect adult party game that everyone has played at least once. Like the real game, this is straightforward, just sharing the unique URL with your friends to create a room and get started.
While Netflix binging and gaming until you forget what day it is are very reasonable and understandable activities to partake in during this anxious time, some folks may feel like they want to try and upskill with the extra hours they now have up their sleeve. If that’s the case, practicing your language learning is a great way to stay socially connected, while learning something new.
If you’re on a budget and you want to study Japanese, check out JapaTalk! This service connects Japanese language learners and teachers. Classes are short, just 30 minutes, and cost only ¥500, making it an easy, low-cost, low commitment way to dip back into the world of nihongo.
Another excellent japan based e-learning platform is Cafetalk. Here lessons are categorized by topics like fashion, IT or art and design, so rather than just studying language, you’re putting your communication skills into real-life practice, making it super handy for learning to talk about something you’re passionate about.