Discovering the Joy of Zoom Roulette
For those of us answering the call of the #stayhome movement (a large chunk of the world now), the long days and nights of social isolation can present us with the conundrum of how to fill all those hours within the confines of our living spaces.
Despite the fact that I have largely worked from home for the best part of 18 months now, both staying home all day and during most of the weekend are new and unwelcome changes for me. (Besides buying some good headphones and a white noise machine my all-time top work from home tip is get out at least once a day!).
Although my social isolation is thankfully not also a solitary one, being removed from society for just a few weeks has brought with it a strong craving for human connection — and sometimes forging new connections can be as effective as rekindling old ones.
So, in addition to holding weekly marathon Zoom meetings with friends from Ireland (a screenshot from last night’s dial-in is above), I have been exploring what else Zoom has to offer. And as it turns out, the answer is a lot!
Here’s how to find it.
How To Search For Random Zoom Links Online
Although Zoom has wisely adjured that publicly posting an invite link and password to a dial-in is a good way to invite digital gatecrashers (trust me, it is!), there are plenty of legitimate Zoom video conferences that are open to the general public.
These can take the form of:
- Meetups for those in a similar occupation, such as freelance writers
- Mental health focused sessions
- Language learning groups
Having participated in more Zoom calls than I can count over the past year, I noticed fairly quickly that all Zoom invite links follow a common URL structure.
That is (at the time of writing):
The wildcard asterisks represents the 10 digit unique Zoom conference ID and the ‘j’ that juxtaposes between the Zoom call URL and the meeting code stands for ‘join’ I believe (this is useful to help remember the format).
And there are two very fertile sources for finding these links:
Although the last few weeks have seen a number of Facebook Groups open dedicated to promulgating member-submitted Zoom meets, the amount of meetings these resources spotlight simply pales in comparison to what you can identify using Twitter.
With Twitter, the volume of Zoom links being tweeted varies between every few seconds during peak times and once a minute at minimum volume.
In identifying Zoom calls to join over the past week, I have been struck by both the variety of worthy uses that public Zoom calls are facilitating during this unprecedented era and the openness of many organizers to unexpected participants.
Some links that today’s search pulled out, for instance, include (I’m obscuring details in case these were posted in error):
A lecture on neonatal endocrinology:
A discussion on the law of attraction:
A Q&A session about online parenting during the current crisis with a pediatric nurse:
A mental health webinar run by UNICEF and the World Health Organization:
This is, of course, just a tiny sample of what’s on offer.
However, be warned that if curiosity compels you to click into a few links you will also likely stumble upon plenty of:
- Teenagers smoking joints
- Group masturbation sessions. (Yup, Zoom sex parties are a real thing).
One can also find plenty of conferences that absolutely should not have been publicly Tweeted.
This category includes:
- Board of Director meetings
- Sports teams hosting private video coaching sessions
And more innocuous broadcasts, like a local Toastmasters chapter holding their meetup over Zoom:
Last night, to see what might happen from the host’s perspective, I tweeted out the Zoom link to a chat with friends publicly.
One minute later, our video conference of 15 had blown up to 40 — with a disproportionate amount of what looked like Russian teenagers joining the call.
So if you weren’t already aware, publicly tweeting Zoom meeting credentials is risky business and there are tons of not so well-intentioned people waiting to jump upon calls.
Thankfully, Zoom has built some decent security features into the platform besides password protection. If you’re hosting a publicly accessible Zoom conference but are worried about the call being overrun with trolls you should:
- Force new participants to mute upon joining
- Enable a waiting room so that you can screen join requests. You can even message prospective attendees to make sure that they’re really interested in the conference you’re facilitating and not just joining for amusement.
- Be prepared to have to remove trolls and malicious participants from your chats
A Code of Ethics for Playing Zoom Roulette
While one could argue that those foolish enough to publicly tweet a Zoom invite link and password deserves whatever comes to them, I think that gatecrashing random Zoom calls probably doesn’t do the world any good.
Indeed, whether as a means of forging connections with online strangers open to chatting or bettering oneself by participating in online meetups and webinars, ‘Zoom Roulette,’ as I conceive of it, should always serve a noble end.
Last week, for example, I participated in a very engaging “coffee hour” chat with a community group based in Canada and later held a one hour co-working and breathwork session with a guy living out of his van in the mountains outside San Francisco.
Therefore, I would recommend that those looking to see what they can find — and join — by searching for Zoom links on Twitter should do the following:
1. Only join Zoom links intended for public access
These are pretty easy to spot.
A Zoom link tweeted by a private account to two other private accounts with no description is probably a meetup between friends and not intended for public access.
However, the majority of results that can be found by playing Zoom Roulette are either explicitly intended for public access or are in that nebulous gray zone where some unexpected participants might be welcomed.
It’s best to use your own judgment to determine where each Zoom invite likely falls on that spectrum.
In addition to searching online, there are a few services intended to help internet users find random Zoom links. These include:
- Randomized Zoom join link generators
2. Avoid joining sex Zooms
I have no idea how these are facilitated, but — if that’s your thing — I don’t think that these are the type of Zoom meets that welcome unannounced participants (or is it the other way around)?
In any event, be suspicious of links which contain terminology that suggests that the video call is likely of that nature.
3. Be respectful of hosts’ wishes
If you join a small Zoom meetup, there’s a good chance that the current participants are going to notice your presence almost immediately.
Lingering in the background without saying who you are or how you found the link is decidedly creepy, so seize upon the opportunity to immediately announce who you are and why you decided to join the link.
I try to be as transparent as possible and tell participants straight up that I’m interested in joining the call because X and I found the link on Y.
4. Leave if you’re not welcome
One of the first Zoom calls I joined, when testing how well this system worked, was a radiologists’ meetup. It was immediately clear that my presence was neither expected nor welcome.
If you’ve misinterpreted the intent behind a Zoom link tweet, then it’s best to make a graceful exit before the host has to kick you out.
5. Give Users A Heads-Up That Their Link Is Open
If you stumble upon a post that is clearly not intended to be publicly accessible, consider dropping the user a private message to let them know that their meeting is publicly accessible.
Consider linking them to this Zoom resource explaining how meeting rooms and password protection works.
Although this protracted social isolation is difficult upon everybody psychologically, I believe that being at home presents us with a unique opportunity of sorts to push the boundaries of how and why we can connect virtually.
Zoom is being utilized on a massive scale to facilitate all manner of excellent meetups ranging from networking sessions to conferences and group therapy meets. These range in format from webinars to participative group conversations — there are plenty of options no matter what your communication preferences or interests.
While we’re at home, let’s take maximum advantage of the unprecedented ability to connect that the excellent Zoom platform gives us.
If you have a webcam, a computer, and a decent internet connection you have more than enough to forge unexpected connections with likeminded people and professions around the globe.
#stayhome and enjoy connecting!
Latest Zoom invite links (Twitter)