Zoom said earlier this week it would lift its standard 40-minute limit on free video chats for Thanksgiving Day to make it easier to spend time with friends and family virtually on the US holiday. Given spikes in COVID-19 cases nationwide and various new and existing restrictions on interstate travel, this year’s Thanksgiving will be an unprecedented affair likely involving a mix of in-person and virtual hangouts using videoconferencing software like Zoom.
The 40-minute limit has been one of the key restrictions of Zoom’s Basic plan throughout the pandemic, often forcing groups to restart a chat after the time limit is up and causing a fair amount of friction in keeping a conversation or virtual gathering going. Many of Zoom’s competitors have imposed similar restrictions (although Google has postponed its planned 60-minute limit for Google Meet calls until March of next year), and all providers charge extra for enterprise-grade plans that remove the limit and expand the number of participants allowed.
But Zoom, which emerged as the face of the videoconferencing boom the pandemic created earlier this year, stands to benefit if it removes this limit, even just for a day, on a high-traffic holiday like Thanksgiving. That way, it can become a destination for virtual celebrations and further establish its platform as a way to connect with others during the pandemic.
It’s only a temporary removal of the 40-minute restriction, lasting from midnight on Thanksgiving Day (November 26th) to 6AM ET on November 27th. But the fact that Zoom is doing this at all — and that it will likely go a long way in helping users employ video chatting as a substitute for a traditional family gathering — speaks volumes about the bizarre and uncharted territory we’re entering this holiday season as COVID-19 continues to rage in the US.
It’s also a good reminder that, given the grim coronavirus forecasts from health experts and the current surges in positive results in virtually every state in the US, it’s a better idea to rely on technology to fill the gap than it is to take the risk of traveling during riskier times of the year like Thanksgiving.