Real-Time Engagement Leader Xiaozhou "William" Du on His Comm Lead Connects Talk

Real-Time Engagement and Real-Time Communication have been very prominent terms over the past year and a half of Covid isolation, but for developers and other tech professionals with a habit of looking to the future, these have been hot-button topics for years now.

These same tech leaders believe that communication and engagement that happens online will only become more prominent in the lives we live, from entertainment to work.  

Real-Time Engagement leader Xiaozhou "William" Du is at the forefront of this technology, and he's been acting as a kind of ambassador for the value of Real-Time Communication and Engagement. 

Earlier this year, Du delivered a talk entitled "The New Era of Real-Time Communication" as part of Comm Lead Connects, which is the premier public event of the University of Washington's Communication Leadership graduate program. 

This talk was in-line with Du's role as Developer Community Manager for Agora, a leading video, voice, and live interactive streaming platform. He shared information on how developer tools like the ones Agora provides make any number of digital products and services possible. 

The broader theme of the Com Leads Connects event this time around was what connection looks like and will look like in the wake of a time of historic isolation and disruption to traditional means of communication and collaboration.  

On a casual, experiential level, we've all been present for this transition, and it is indeed likely that many different types of activities that have been previously defined by in-person human interaction of some kind will, at the very least, expand into virtual formats as well, or perhaps even transition entirely to virtual formats. 

It's an important subject of discussion, both for end-users like us and developers who will no doubt be creating new products and platforms to support Real-Time Engagement and Communication. 

Educating on Real-Time Communication & Engagement  

A common misconception about Real-Time Communication and Engagement is that it was a sort of sudden, stop-gap solution that arose precisely when the pandemic forced so many people all over the world to stay in their homes far more often than usual. 

But this just isn't true, as Du confirms. 

"The world was already in a transition from traditional human engagement to online engagement. The pandemic has been a catalyst to fast-forward the process. During this time, companies are creating platforms that can enhance and even replace traditional human experiences, such as telemedicine, virtual classrooms, and virtual workplaces."

It's understandable why some people would get the impression that virtual communication and engagement arrived alongside the pandemic, as this moment in time did in fact popularize various platforms (Zoom and others) and products that supported these forms of interaction. 

But the pandemic really shined a light on this area of technology, making it mainstream within a matter of weeks. Additionally, quarantine measures also encouraged further investment in this technology and the creation of new products. 

Xiaozhou William Du

Xiaozhou "William" Du

Rather than simply touch on this moment of transition in his Comm Leads Connects talk, Du used the opportunity to share with the audience, many of whom may go on to become professionally involved in Real-Time Engagement as well, unique innovations that have made use of Agora's technology. 

He specifically highlighted cutting-edge use cases of this technology that will very likely continue to be used in future software. These use cases include live translation, a virtual workplace, and AR and VR tech as well. 

These features and technologies could prove to be especially useful in tele-education and hybrid work scenarios, the latter of which will be discussed towards the end of the article. 

The how behind Real-Time Engagement 

Beyond just making people, especially future developers, aware of existing Real-Time Engagement and Communication applications, Du really wants to help people understand exactly how these applications are made, and just how many great ideas are packed into each one. 

"I love doing this, not only because it’s my personal passion, but also because I've realized that not many people understand the complexities and innovations behind the Real-Time Engagement industry. People don’t realize that there are many technologies behind the scenes that power the platforms and features we've been using to communicate online. There are also many other use cases for video and audio, other than just video chat and conferencing." 

For the average user, it's definitely easy to take all of this incredible technology for granted. 

Take Zoom, for example. It's impressively easy to use, to a point where a first-time user can join a session in just a few minutes. 

But behind the scenes, Zoom is far from simple. A large team has refined its features, UI, and performance such that it comes across as much more simple and straightforward than it really is under the hood. 

Both users and developers stand to benefit immensely from additional products that deliver a similar level of practical value without losing users in a steep learning curve. 

For users, it's definitely worth slowing down and acknowledging the incredible skill that goes into these services.  

Questions for the future

Following Du's Comm Leads Connects talk, one of the biggest topics that the audience was eager to ask questions about was whether or not the massive interest in virtual and hybrid real-time communication and events will remain consistent after the pandemic has finally come to a close. 

It's a good question, and it's probably one that many of us have at least considered over the past year or so. 

Is there a definitive answer? Are we destined to communicate with educators and co-workers and entertainers exclusively via virtual events and collaboration platforms? 

Du doesn't go to such extremes in his arguments, but he does feel quite strongly that the past year or so has been a watershed moment for Real-Time Engagement and for how users interact with each other and participate in various events. 

"There is probably no way people are going to return to all of the same experiences they had before the pandemic. Instead, they will start to understand and embrace new, potentially hybrid experiences, and ultimately there are many benefits to this transition." 

An example Du provided on this front was large events that, in the past, were almost exclusively held as in-person events. 

"Even after people are allowed to have in-person events, we imagine people are still going to consider either virtual or hybrid event formats, since they have seen the benefits of having virtual and hybrid events, such as lowering costs and encouraging engagement." 

Major concerts, festivals, and fundraisers would certainly be prime candidates for virtual or hybrid event formats, as the costs of holding these kinds of events entirely in-person almost work against the main goal, which is to generate revenue, either for private entities or non-profit organizations. 

So it's doubtful that we're heading for a science-fiction future where we experience absolutely everything through screens, but we also shouldn't be surprised to see certain large events make a permanent leap to a more sustainable format, which would also make these events accessible to more people. 

Hybrid work isn't losing steam 

Jumping off from that idea, that Real-Time Engagement and Communication isn't just a fad tethered to the pandemic, we'd like to end the article by talking about one specific form of Real-Time Engagement that definitely isn't going away any time soon. 

Hybrid work is not just about social distancing, but the widespread use of hybrid and remote working tools has made it clear to more companies than ever before just how beneficial this approach can be. 

On a surface level, hybrid work or full remote work means that companies can lessen their dependence on a physical office space, which could mean drastically reduced overhead.

This would also mean that employees wouldn't need to worry about long-distance commutes, which really don't benefit employees or their companies.  

But beyond these somewhat obvious benefits to hybrid and remote work, Du identified several key features now available via online collaboration tools that could be immensely valuable to companies in just about any industry.    

"Even after people are allowed to come back to the office, people and companies still tend to lean on virtual or hybrid work collaboration. As a company grows, employees will be dispersed to different parts of the world. With virtual collaboration tools, employees can engage with each other outside of a conference room and also work together live over a virtual whiteboard and receive live feedback from machine learning and also utilize live translation features." 

Even for companies that don't have international operations of some kind, the possibility of reaping the benefits of in-person collaboration without having to actually gather all the relevant personnel in the same physical space could permanently alter our perception of the workplace. 

In a broader sense, as Du has demonstrated here, Real-Time Engagement and Communication aren't going away anytime soon, and that's ultimately a good thing. 

Human interaction and collaboration are changing for the better, and industry luminaries are leading the way. 

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