Data Doctors: What to know about the Marco Polo app

Q: A family member sent me an invite to start using the Marco Polo app, so what should I know before I get involved?

A: We all have so many ways to communicate already that committing to another tool may seem pointless, but Marco Polo may be worth considering.

Marco Polo is a video chat app that’s like a walkie-talkie conversation instead of a live session. Much like text messaging, you can send and respond to video chats when it’s convenient.

It was originally created to communicate with friends and family in different countries, many time zones ahead.

During the pandemic, it became a popular method to stay in touch in a more personal way than texting or trying to find a mutually feasible time to connect via one of the many live video tools such as Facetime or Zoom.

While it’s certainly possible to send video messages via text message, those videos will be commingled with all your other text messages. Video length and quality can also be limited, depending on which type of phone each party is using.

Marco Polo keeps all your video chats together, so it’s easy to keep track of your conversations with each person without the need to go searching through a long string of text messages.

Better context

We have all sent or been sent a text message that was misconstrued, because it’s ultimately difficult to convey tone or emotions accurately, even with the inclusion of emojis.

Sending a video message allows the recipient to see facial expressions, tone, emotions, gestures and body language, which can make the message much more meaningful.

Easier to use

One of the most common comments from fans of Marco Polo is that it’s so simple that older, less tech-savvy users have no problem learning how to use it.

Inviting a friend or family member is as easy as typing in their phone number to see whether they are already on the platform. If they’re not, it will send them an invitation with a link to download the app.

As with text messages, the only user who can see the video is the person you send it to. So it’s not like Facebook or Instagram, but more like a version of Snapchat that doesn’t automatically delete the videos.

Group chats

Families using Marco Polo create a group with everyone to send and view the videos sent via the family group.

It can also be useful for groups that need to collaborate on a project that would benefit from the use of video to show or explain things without having to schedule a specific time for everyone to collaborate.

Privacy concerns

The app offers the chance to upload your contacts to their servers, so you can see which of your friends and family are already using the platform.

Some have a problem with sharing all their contacts, so they don’t allow this and manually add the people they want to chat with by searching for their phone numbers.

Once you’ve set up your account, anyone searching for your phone number can find you to start chatting, so if you want to try the app in a stealthy way, consider using a free Google Voice number instead of your personal number.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

© 2020 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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