Open-source video conferencing is one of the few remaining glimpses of the utopian potential of the internet. If you’re willing to get a little sentimental about what the internet is or was supposed to deliver, you can see it within the chat windows of apps such as Jitsi–emerging technologies developed and given away for free so that anyone and everyone can participate in the digital communications revolution.
That’s the idealized version of Jitsi’s existence, anyway. The reality is that while the highly adaptable, open-source app is still free to use and deploy within personalized platforms, it has become something of a research and development unit for subscription content providers. So, Jitsi stands as a kind of glorified public Beta test of the latest video conferencing technology.
Its logical counterpoint in many ways is Appear.in (recently rechristened Whereby). This WebRTC-powered video platform has taken the same open-access ideals of Jitsi and turned them into a commercial subscription service.
The Appear.in vs. Jitsi clash is a living demonstration of how the internet’s free-to-all ideals have evolved into commercial reality.
Jitsi and the Open-Source Ideal
Jitsi operates on two levels. If you’re an end-user in need of a free video conferencing service, it has the flexibility and features to provide just about everything you’ll need to conduct a social or professional group meeting. If your ambitions extend to creating your own video calling portal, it can be deployed within a website or an Android or iOS mobile app to give you control over how people interact with your domain.
The platform operated as an independent, open-source meeting point until it was bought by Atlassian in 2015. That company had plans to use Jitsi’s tech to power native video in its HipChat and Stride services, but when those were bought and scuttled by Slack, the service became unnecessary. So, in 2018 Jitsi was sold to video vendor 8×8. This new owner has promised to continue acting as a benefactor for the free service and its creators while using the Jitsi tech to boost its own paid WebRTC, video calling, and video bridging services.
Jitsi has free background blur and live streaming features, but they’re firmly in the Beta mode.
Why would 8×8 give away the same Jitsi technology it is trying to sell in its own product? Because there’s a downside to the open-source ideal. Open-source means going it alone, as there’s no reliable revenue stream to fund dedicated infrastructure. Jitsi doesn’t offer any commercial support for its products, and many of its features exist in a state of developmental flux. The app has free background blur and live streaming features, for example, but they’re firmly in the Beta mode, while it offers only clever workarounds to deliver video conferencing standards such as meeting recording (it recommends you stream your meeting to YouTube and use that site’s recording function).
Such drawbacks make Jitsi a potentially unreliable and cumbersome option for business clients and restrict the service to developers with superior IT skills and casual users with limited ambitions–which is why the creative teams behind digital communication services need to find a revenue source for their endeavors.
Just like Appear.in (Whereby) has done.
Appear.in and Monetizing Communication
Appear.in (Whereby) is like Jitsi’s mature older sibling that took the shared passion for WebRTC communication and turned it into a commercial business.
The platform, which changed its name to Whereby after a legal battle over the Appear.in moniker, uses the same browser-based WebRTC technology that allows users to stage instant video meetings online without accounts or downloads. As we discussed in our previous reviews of Whereby–here as a standalone service, and here in comparison with Google’s Hangouts platform–the result is a lightning-quick service that removes the barriers of subscription services and lets anyone with a common browser speak face-to-face across a reliable video connection.
Both Jitsi and Appear.in can be integrated with leading workflow platforms, including Slack.
Whereby (that name is going to take some getting used to) has since evolved into a subscription business that offers the support professional customers require. Just like Jitsi, it offers chat, screen sharing, group video calls (although capped at four in the limited free version and 12 in the Pro Plan), customizable meeting URLs, and encrypted connections. Unlike Jitsi, there’s someone available online 24/7 should you run into technical difficulties.
Such a backstop should make Whereby a clear winner over Jitsi’s community of developers, but the execution just isn’t there. There’s no noticeable difference between the presentation of either product, and Jitsi actually offers a more comprehensive list of features, including emerging must-have video features like live streaming. Both services can be integrated with leading workflow platforms including Slack, but in Whereby’s case, you’re doubling your subscription fee just to add a video calling alternative to the baked-in native options of a collaboration platform.
Truthfully, if you’re choosing between these platforms, you face an underwhelming decision between an earnest amateur and a clumsy professional.
Appear.in Vs. Jitsi: The Verdict
On a sheer product-to-product comparison, we’d have to give the open-source platform the edge in any Appear.in vs. Jitsi digital bout. However, there are clear differences between the target audiences for each that may make such comparisons moot.
If you are looking for a commercial tool, you’d have to go with Appear.in/Whereby.
Jitsi is for developers and casual users. If you want to build your own video-enabled website or you just want a free, universally accessible way to video chat, then Jitsi is for you. If you are looking for a commercial tool, you’d have to go with Appear.in/Whereby. Unless your IT team is prepared to shoulder the entire tech support burden, it is irresponsible to deploy an open-source platform.
In the end, both services are probably more flash than substance for a small-to-medium business’s liking. We’d suggest you take a look at Zoom, BlueJeans, or the workflow integration of Microsoft Teams before making your final decision.
Still, it’s nice to know that a little of the internet’s free-to-all ideals live on in the open-source and WebRTC roots of both Jitsi and Whereby.
Note that while this site is sponsored by Logitech, reviews contain the writer’s own opinions and are not influenced by the views of our sponsor.