Search the German Wikipedia site for “Webinar” and you will get an article explaining among other things that the word is a composite of “Web” and “Seminar”. Search the English site for “Webinar” and you will be redirected to an article on “web conferencing” whereas the German site offers an additional article on web conferencing next to webinars. So obviously the English version of Wikipedia treats “webinar” and “web conference” as synonyms in contrast to the German version. Since Wikipedia is claimed to reflect the knowledge of the masses it is pretty safe to assume that there exists some confusion regarding the web conferencing terminology.
Agreed, there is no clear-cut distinction, but since we evaluate web conferencing solutions on webconferencing-test.com we feel that the basic terms and criteria must be defined, so that we can begin with an impartial set of distinctions when testing software. So here’s how we use the terms:
A web conference typically is a non-public online meeting with focus on collaboration. One person is the formal host, but the role of presenter can easily be switched along with keyboard and mouse control. Desktop sharing is the preferred mode for collaboration since it allows for easy exchange of information, access to various tools, and editing of files. Attendees are invited individually by the meeting host – a good software offers an invitation functionality. Other, more asymmetric forms of online meetings can also be regarded as web conferences, when e.g. a presentation is held in a rather informal setting, with few attendees who can give feedback at any time.
In a webinar the roles of presenter/moderator on the one side and attendee/listener on the other side are fixed. The attendees are invited individually by the presenter and are passive viewers/listeners throughout the entire webinar. Possible forms of giving feedback are polls, a chat function, and question rounds that can be initiated by the moderator only. An open registration to webinars is also possible. Important functionalities are reporting – who has attended? – and archiving of the entire webinar so that it can later be published on a website or sent to the attendees.
On webconferencing-test.com we focus on software for actual web conferences and point out tools that can also be used for webinars. For more in-depth knowledge and additional infos on webinars you can visit Ken Molay’s Blog.
This leaves us with webcasts as our final term, which are another subcategory of online meetings. In general, a webcast is a live or recorded event that targets a large audience. There are no interactive elements offered at all and attendees can often participate without registering. Multimedia elements – especially video – are featured heavily in webcasts.
So, this is how we differentiate between web conferences, webinars, and webcasts. Please feel free to comment if you disagree or if you feel we have hit the nail spot-on.