Web Meeting Tools

Note: this topic needs updating of the listed tools and adding links.
It is difficult if not impossible to always meet face to face (F2F) with other people. Where we have access to the internet, we can use web based synchronous (online at the same time) meeting tools. These allow us the immediacy of a F2F meeting without the cost of time and travel of a F2F meeting. There are challenges meeting via the web, but these can be met with some consideration to both what technology and processes we use, as well as sound meeting design. This page talks a bit about web based meeting tools.

Do you know about synchronous meeting tools like Blackboard Collaborate, Live Meeting, GooglePlus and others? Please, add your knowledge to this page. We are particularly interested in the application for meetings for widespread global groups.

Brief Description:

There are a range of free and paid web based tools that allow groups to have meetings together with a distributed group of participants. These are "same time" or synchronous tools, which means everyone is online at the same time. This page looks at the technology issues behind webmeeting tools.

History:

When to use:


When you want to connect to and share presentations with people who are in multiple locations. There are a number of different use cases but a couple of common ones are:
  1. Synchronous meeting - with a small group where each participant can share their screen and webcam and interact on a fairly level basis of participation. Suitable for small multi-location meetings.
  2. Webinar - for larger groups where there may be a single or small number of presenters/moderators who run the session while other participants watch/listen to the presentation with more limited opportunity to directly interact such as by submitting questions via chat or requesting access to microphone to ask questions. Suitable for presentations and training.

Examples of Web Based Meeting Tools

There are both paid and free web meeting tools. First you should determine what sorts of activities you need to support with your meeting and what tool features help support those activities. Then TEST the features. A tool that feels good on one platform may not suit your need on another, even though they are called the same thing. This list needs further updating.

  • Vyew
  • GoToMeeting/GoToWebinar
  • DimDim
  • Skype
  • Blackboard Collaborate (was Elluminate)
  • Adobe Connect
  • WebEx
  • Google hangout - this functionality within Google+ allows up to 10 people to simultaneously connect through webcam and chat (but it does not have full webinar functionality).
  • Yugma
  • iLinc
  • QiqoChat

How to use:


Tips and Lessons Learnt

  • If your Web Meeting Tools allows the use of audio and video devices, test them prior instead of during the meeting! Audio is the single most difficult technical issue due to bandwidth and very individual settings on people's computers. An alternative is to use a telephone bridge line for the audio.
  • For small groups Skype and Google+ works well.
  • Webex has worked very well for me when having to share presentations online. People can talk, chat, and share presentations/documents that all can watch and edit at the same time and it is moderated. It is not a free service although some organizations have a deal with Webex and provide log in information if you request it (i.e. the Open Educational Resources dgCommunity http://topics.developmentgateway.org/openeducation/index.do You need to contact the content manager to check if that arrangement is still going on or directly contact Nadia Afrin at nafrin@dgfoundation.org ) [Denise Senmartin]
  • To combine the two types of functions/services which Denise mentions above, there’s a similar service to WebEx named Yugma – www.yugma.com which you can use with Skype. Yugma accounts are free. [Anthony Bloome]
  • I have actively facilitated events on at least ten different on-line conferencing platforms and have found that each of them has its comparative strengths. In the end, choosing which platform is “best” truly depends on the “user requirements” of the customer. For example: WebEx – is especially strong at incorporating phone bridges. DimDim – has the strongest price point… although Elluminate Vroom is also free for groups of 4 or less Elluminate Live! – has a very strong track record in low bandwidth environments and has an exceptionally strong VOIP capacity Adobe Connect – has a great user interface and runs off a flash based platform which reduces the likelihood that users will have problems with plug ins, firewalls and initial download delays Microsoft LiveMeeting – integrates well with the Microsoft office suite (no surprise) iLinc – has a truly impressive classroom management capacity and a super cool “green meter” that tracks carbon footprint savings while meetings are running I have advised a number of organizations/individuals as they consider adopting on-line conferencing applications, and in truth, I never go into any discussion with a pre-determined recommendation. In my experience, the “best” alternative is always contingent on the user requirements – and these requirements differ almost every time. My personal requirement has been to optimize low bandwidth connections and maximize VOIP robustness – Elluminate Live has served these needs very well. [Mike Culligan]
  • In daily working and learning practice (e.g. in projects) we are using just Skype and Yugma as a Skype plugin , www.yugma.com (e.g. for small groups, less than 10 people).- offers everything to get familiar with the new teaching and learning style (and no hassle with setup and maintenance)
- remote desktop sharing (e.g. especially useful for software trainings) - quite reliable, also in case of low bandwidth (e.g. Skype's powerful group chat features)
- no license cost - no server technology needed
and excellent for on-demand support at the workplace. However, this is just a good starting point, an Intranet solution or a corporate academy solution may require more infrastructure. [Sebastian Hoffman]
  • Comparison of Blackboard Collaborate (was Elluminate) and WebEx from Nancy White: (And more here on picking tools)
    • Speed - good and comparable between the two
    • VOIP - Easier to take/pass the mic in Elluminate. Requires moderator to control in WebEX
    • Dial Up - I don't think Elluminate has a separate land line dial up option - need to check. WebEx has toll free and user-pay-long distance options. VOIP on Elluminate has worked well for me in fairly limited bandwidth in the South.
    • Breakouts - WebEx confusing and require quite a bit of juggling by the moderator (I have experienced, but not set up breakouts on Elluminate, so I need to test this.) Concerned that sometimes in a VOIP group call a land line telecon number is delivered for breakouts
    • Controls: WebEx can only have one moderator - so hard to share some duties. Can have multiple moderators in Elluminate
    • Confusing options with dial in and VOIP for setting up confs in WebEx. No Dial up options in Elluminate
    • White board performs swiftly in WebEx, but less functionality than Elluminate white boards (stamps, easy integration of visuals)
    • PPT upload and display - good on both systems
    • Support seems responsive on WebEx. Elluminate is generally pretty good, but I have had one problem.
    • Chat function - good options of all group or private messages for both systems. WEbEx has improved from what it was.
    • Recording - did not experience the playback of WebEx but both seem to be easy to start/stop recordings. Both capture in proprietary formats, which is a negative.
    • Cannot cut and paste between whiteboards in WebEx (I need to test this on Elluminate)
    • WebEx "Training Room" language is to me annoying - it assumes one particular paradigm which is a minus. Elluminate offers a more generic platform for multiple functions.
    • Both have branding options for a room. I think WebEx has a bit more visual options for branding.
  • If possible use a headset to reduce feedback/echo, and use a portable webcam rather than one built in the the laptop to enable better tracking and video quality.
  • Tony Pryor on KM4Dev: I think the material on webinars though also flags that the software cost is not actually the major expense; it's not even a question of slick versus workable, not only are webinars using free apps, even WebX, potentiially difficult to manage, and more open to glitches, especially audio ones, the primary cost still remains the human management of them. Regardless of the route you take, I suggest you allocate sufficient support (technical and facilitative), test it well in advance, especially links with more remote users, and provide all concerned information about how to set up their computes and their communications equipment to make it work. I'd also try to limit the complexity, especially tyne audio complexity, if your effort crosses national boundaries. You might also consider NOT using VOIP, i.e. sound and video via computer link but have a parallel audio hookup via a free conference call service. Your odds of having problems will drop significantly.
  • Jasmin Sumistrado on the KM4Dev discusson: Haven't really tried free systems but you'll have to study it closely and see if all your requirements are met by the free ones. I use both Gotowebinar and Webex, which are both for a fee. The differences are subtle and both offer interactive features that you can integrate in the actual session like polls, hand raising, passing the mic, etc. Webex is slightly more user friendly from my perspective, and the training system (which you can also use for online meetings) is quite nice with break out sessions, white boards, etc (we don't have the license for the gototraining so I can't really compare). But really the most important is the availability of people who can help design, prepare the speakers, test the system with them, moderate, attend to tech issues of participants, help moderate questions asked by participants in the chat box, etc. From our experience, webinars (especially those involving 500 people) require a lot of prep time, so plan to allocate a significant amount of time for it.
  • Ewen LeBorgne on KM4Dev: I'd recommend you have someone type up what people are saying so that there is a text channel available online (very low bandwidth) in case they lose audio or video connection. Tools as simple as MeetingWords help in this sense, or Skype text chat... (For more on this, see "Why Chat Streams are Critical for Live Events")

Examples & Stories

  • As our group is partner with Open University in an EU funded project, we have been given the possibility to use Flashmeeting for organizing online meetings. Flashmeeting is an application based on the Adobe Flash 'plug in' and Flash Media Server and runs in a standard web browser window allowing dispersed group of people to meet and interact. Typically a meeting is pre-booked by a registered user and a url, containing a unique password for the meeting, is returned by the server. The 'booker' passes this on to the people they wish to participate, who simply click on the link to enter into the meeting at the arranged time. During the meeting one person speaks (i.e. broadcasts) at a time. Other people can simultaneously contribute using text chat, the whiteboard, or emoticons etc. while waiting for their turn to speak. This way the meeting is ordered, controlled and easy to follow. A replay of the meeting is instantly available, to those with the 'unique' replay url. The nice thing about it is that based on the location of the participants, it even calculates the amount of CO2 saved! It is advised that if you are trying this out for the first time, test out your audio and video equipment prior to the start of the meeting. -- Gauri Salokhe, FAO.
  • Diego Leal wrote of his experiments with web meeting tools in Colombia http://www.diegoleal.org/social/blog/blogs/dotedu-dotco/index.php/2008/03/06/title-1
  • In UNICEF we make extensive use of Elluminate for organizing webinars. We have developed a tip sheet for organizing webinars (which I'll upload here soon).

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