Big disruptions are rad.
Slack’s sleek messaging platform upended the internal communications software space as we know it, and currently the cloud conferencing platform Zoom is doing the same for video conferencing software.
What these transformations tell us is businesses are looking for sleeker, more intuitive tools for their employees’ daily collaboration and communication needs. This could mean other communication spaces might be due for a serious disruption as developers scramble to cash in on this new communication revolution.
A potential space due for an overhaul is in VoIP providers and technology. Many products within the VoIP (voice over internet protocol) sector have remained untouched for the better part of a decade; the last notable disruption in the consumer VoIP space occurred during the earliest days of Skype.
However, in recent years, VoIP has become a feature some video conferencing tools add as an afterthought. Arguably, the most memorable VoIP software to have hit consumers in the last decade wasn’t even built with businesses in mind.
It was made for gamers.
What is Discord?
Discord is a communication platform that allows users to create private servers akin to a company Slack workspace. Within these servers, users can create dedicated VoIP or text-based channels to communicate in, and users can join multiple servers with only one account. Discord also facilitates direct messaging via text, VoIP or video.
While the platform might not sound revolutionary on paper, its execution set it apart from other options available at the time of its release. It’s available as a downloadable software app, an in-browser app and a mobile app; this was previously unheard of in the VoIP-for-gamers space, where the only options available were downloadable desktop applications. The platform is clean, responsive and incredibly user-friendly. It wasn’t uncommon to hear Discord described as “Slack for gamers” by users before it quickly made a name for itself.
However, Discord is by no means the first VoIP software built for gamers.
Its predecessors include the likes of TeamSpeak and Vent, two juggernauts that were created soon after the birth of modern online gaming. These tools were incredibly useful at their inception and indispensable in growing online gaming as we know it today. However, their drawbacks became more apparent as time went on. Call quality in these tools was often unreliable or they used too much of a system’s resources, causing computers to slow. Their user interfaces went without any upgrades even as 2010 approached — user experience be damned.
When Discord was publicly released in the spring of 2015, the gamers eagerly adopted it for what it was: the VoIP tool for the modern era of gaming.
Despite Discord’s intended use as a tool for gamers, it has been co-opted by a plethora of other online communities, fulfilling the same purpose that online forums once did. Many subreddits, friend groups and even organizations offer dedicated Discord servers for members to meet in. Discord servers have been made for users looking to discuss everything from economics to KPop. The list is practically endless.
Definitely not my Discord server.
With Discord’s rising popularity even among non-gamers, some have wondered if and when businesses would join in on the hype. While some companies have considered using Discord, the question has been deliberated in a few Reddit threads and by blogs. But thus far, I haven’t found a definitive answer on Discord’s viability in the corporate space.
How Discord Could Disrupt VoIP
Could Discord bring long-overdue disruption to the corporate VoIP space?
1. Text-based and VoIP channels
VoIP channels and text channels are kept separate inside Discord servers, though users can use them concurrently. Users can be active in a VoIP channel and a text channel simultaneously, enabling multiple conversations or content sharing during an audio call. Users can share files up to 8 MB, and the server itself has no limit to the amount of content that can be shared. The voice channels also provide a push-to-talk feature which can otherwise be oddly difficult to find in other VoIP products. Users can mute notifications for activity in SMS channels as well.
All of these capabilities have the potential to be powerful within a company. Discord provides internal communications functions comparable to Slack, including one-to-one messaging, text-based group chats and content sharing. However, Discord also provides VoIP-based channels, which is a feature Slack lacks entirely. Additionally, Discord also recently deployed video chat and screen sharing functionality on top of its file sharing features within text chats.
2. Massive server size
Discord has gained popularity as an alternative to traditional online forums in part because servers can host a multitude of users.
Servers can be populated with seemingly unlimited users as long as they’re given access. While it can be difficult to ascertain specific numbers, it seems that the largest servers host hundreds of thousands of members. If need be, a single server can host an entire company.
Technically, Discord imposes a limit on the number of members that can exist in one chat, but that number is outrageously high. In a tweet from 2016, Discord stated that a text-based channel could host 5,000 users concurrently. While Discord hasn’t released the number for concurrent VoIP channel users, some Redditors have reported being in voice channels with hundreds of other users with no issues.
The thought of entering a voice chat with hundreds of users may initially be terrifying. However, given Discord’s extensive permissions controls, those fears can be placated. Server owners and moderators have the ability to mute members within text and audio channels permanently or for a short duration. This could allow conference call leaders to ensure smooth meetings with potentially dozens of other people without worrying about users accidentally unmuting themselves.
In a similar vein, Discord also features a priority speaker function for audio channels that allows an individual’s audio to be louder than the rest. This could be especially useful in a business context when a supervisor needs to lead an audio call.
4. IP and DDoS protection
Security is a worry with any VoIP service. Discord’s client-server architecture ensures that IP information remains secure, protecting users from potential DDoS attacks. The application also features an IP location lock that notifies users when a login attempt is made from an unusual IP address. Discord also provides two-factor authentication for an extra, juicy layer of safety.
5. Tiered membership
A portion of Discord’s rapid rise in popularity is due in part to the fact that all features spelled out above are free.
However, the company recently released a new subscription plan that offers subscribers access to complimentary video games, higher-quality video, file sharing up to 50 MB, and global custom emojis.
While only a few of these features are directly appealing from a business standpoint, it does show that Discord is open to tiered membership, versioning, and tailoring to the user’s benefit. This could indicate the possible existence of a paid business version that companies could pay for on a monthly or yearly basis.
So What's The Catch?
All these features make Discord an incredibly enticing option for businesses, particularly to growing ones looking for an inexpensive internal communications tool. However, software doesn’t exist in a bubble. The idea has to have been explored before, and there are very valid reasons why businesses haven’t adopted Discord into their software ecosystem.
Even when looking at what Discord could offer the business landscape, it’s important to keep in mind what it is: a software tool for gamers.
Many of the more obvious gaming features will clog space in the interface. For example, users can launch games right from the Discord app and see when other users are logged into games. Users can’t opt out of these features either, leaving unused functions on the main dashboard regardless.
In a similar vein are features that businesses can’t expect from Discord given its intended use. For example, it lacks integration with Office 365 and myriad other software solutions that are standard within an office’s repertoire. It also lacks a file system manager and file search capabilities users expect from other messenger applications.
Many businesses considering VoIP products are looking for a tool that can be used both internally and externally with shareholders, clients and potential leads. A team member wouldn’t dream of allowing a client into their company’s private Slack channel, but to use Discord’s VoIP functionality, they would have to do just that.
Of course, a company could adopt Discord for its internal VoIP needs and another product for external use. However, that could very possibly lead to an overlap in functionality many businesses would deem redundant.
The most damning argument against Discord as a business software isn’t found in its feature set, but in two paragraphs in its Terms of Service (ToS):
“By uploading, distributing, transmitting or otherwise using Your Content with the Service, you grant to us a perpetual, nonexclusive, transferable, royalty-free, sublicensable, and worldwide license to use, host, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, and display Your Content in connection with operating and providing the Service.
“The Company reserves the right to remove and permanently delete Your Content from the Service with or without notice for any reason or no reason. You may notify the Company of any user content that you believe violates these Terms, or other inappropriate user behavior, by emailing email@example.com.”
Businesses want to own their content without fear of it being used elsewhere or deleted without their knowledge. While Discord has only exerted the latter right to purge the application of abusive content, businesses are still going to be wary of uploading content to a platform that essentially promises to strip them of their ownership.
Erring on the side of optimism, it’s possible that Discord could potentially release a business-compatible version of its product. This version would definitely have to offer an amended ToS that would allow companies to retain ownership of the content they share via the platform.
Additionally, a “Discord for Business” version would need to provide higher file sharing limits, integrations with industry-standard software, and maybe even branding options.
However, as it stands, it’s unlikely that businesses will be adopting Discord anytime soon.
While it has all the makings for a major disruptor in the business VoIP space, it also lacks much of the basic functionality businesses expect in a communication tool. Between the features it lacks and a ToS that doesn’t even try to take businesses into consideration, Discord won’t be overtaking the workplace in the near future.
What Discord and its rapid rise in the personal VoIP space does offer is insight into the wants of consumers. Whether it’s during their World of Warcraft raid or inside their workspace, people love a well-tuned VoIP tool. Even if Discord doesn’t implement a business version itself, another enterprising developer could very well use Discord’s formula and apply it to a more business-friendly model.
In fact, products based on the gaming VoIP model are already available to businesses. For example, Lito is a browser-based voice collaboration product inspired by TeamSpeak intended specifically for remote teams. While it does provide Discord-like voice channels and other features like screen sharing, companies will still have to turn to options like Slack for instant messaging and file sharing.
While Lito isn’t an exact Discord clone, it’s an excellent example of developers implementing technology commonly used in gaming spaces to bolster business communication.
The gaming space is doing something right with VoIP, and businesses would be wise to take note of the benefits of fast, convenient voice communication.
Learn more about VoIP options for gamers and small businesses by exploring the best free VoIP providers in 2019.