Alternative web conferencing solutions to Dimdim

With the acquisition of Dimdim and the termination of services by March 15, Salesforce.com pushes users to make a quick decision about which tool to select as a replacement for future web conferences.

When looking for a substitution you have to ask yourself which features of an online meeting solution are most important to you. We compared Dimdim to all its competitors we listed in our ranking taking into account the following three criteria users might look for:

- range of functionalities,
- similar user interface,
- browser based vs. desktop based.

Especially the last criterion is interesting in this case. Dimdim allowed you to access your meeting through your browser and upload data into a virtual room to share it with others. But sharing your entire desktop was also possible and only required the download and installation of an additional app.

So if you prefer the browser-based approach, the tools that are the closest to what Dimdim offered are Adobe Connect 8, Fuze Meeting, or spreed.com. If you prefer the desktop-based model, which we personally do, we suggest you have a look at the top 5 tools in our comparison.

Of course, users will not be able to get an identical tool and take over where they left off. So why not use this as an opportunity to perhaps select a completely different service.

And we’re not necessarily talking about higher cost as a given, although quality does have its price and free solutions seem to be struggling on the market as Dimdim and Yugma have impressively demonstrated. All pros and cons of the different online collaboration solutions available are included on our site.

The idea of free web conferencing services goes on the fritz

Many vendors provide free versions of their web conferencing solutions. Often the functionality is only slightly less than that of a paid account and sufficient for a large number of users.

This model seems to be no longer working as recent developments on the online collaboration market have shown. Yugma, as we already pointed out in an earlier post, provides the bit that is left of its services from India. And Dimdim can hardly have been profitable if Salesforce.com’s first action after the acquisition is to stop the service for all free and paying customers.

Providing web conferencing services means large investments in infrastructure, and if too many of your users can live with the functionalities of the free versions, you really need to have a large number of paying customers to cover the deficit.

Citrix plans to take over Netviewer to expand its share of the European market

While Salesforce.com just inhaled deeply and swallowed Dimdim in the process, the planned acquisition of Netviewer by Citrix is a whole other story.

Citrix Online with its products GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar, and GoToTraining, has an enormous share in the worldwide web conferencing market, as the company proudly declares on its website. Netviewer on the other hand leads the German-speaking market when it comes to online collaboration.

In its press release Citrix is very candid about its goals, the major one being to accelerate growth in Europe. It will be very interesting to see what will come from this joining of forces. GoToMeeting and Netviewer Meet, currently number 1 and 2 in our ranking of web conferencing solutions, have been providing outstanding online meeting solutions for a long time and if the joined service keeps “simpler is better” as its motto, web conferencing users are in for a positive surprise.

Salesforce.com acquires Dimdim and leaves its users less than happy

We received some angry emails from Dimdim users in the last couple of days. What happened? Well, as has been published widely throughout the Net Salesforce.com has acquired Dimdim and thus now owns a very advanced web conferencing technology. Dimdim had made it to number 8 in our comparison of web conferencing solutions.

As Salesforce.com states on its website, one of the major reasons for the acquisition was

to bring new real-time communication capabilities to the Chatter collaboration platform, mirroring the proven Facebook model of combining collaboration and communication into an integrated service.

So it is once again Facebook that is driving innovation and tempting other – in this case admittedly powerful – online players to copy or emulate its services. And a “corporate Facebook” really is an intriguing idea, so we will be following the developments closely.

But this didn’t cause the angry emails mentioned above. These were triggered by a Dimdim ‘service mail’ informing all users of their online meeting software that the company will no longer provide its services after March 15 – even for paying customers. Only those users with a yearly subscription will be able to use the service until the contractually agreed upon end date. How good customer service will remain after March 15 we shall have to see.

However, cutting off all services with a three month notice to customers is not really a good move, considering that all uploaded documents will no longer be accessible after the shutdown, which means that users have to make sure to download everything they might need on time. For other info on the consequences for customers you can check out Dimdim’s FAQs on the subject.

Since the service is no longer continued we will remove Dimdim from our ranking of online meeting tools. We will keep you informed about further consequences and invite all Dimdim users to check out our list of online meeting solutions for a suitable replacement.

Skype: Great for private chats and calls, not so great for web conferencing

Why did we include Skype in our ranking today? Or better: Why have we waited until today to do so?

Millions of users have been calling each other via Skype for years. If more than two users are in the call – Skype has been offering this functionality for quite some time now – you could say that they are in an „audio conference“. With version 4.1 for Windows and 2.8 for Mac, Skype introduced desktop sharing, which we like to refer to as screen sharing – for two and only two users. With version 5, Skype has enhanced its video functionality: now, for the first time ever, more than two Skype users can wave at each other without being in the same room.

This step-by-step inclusion of features that are important for web conferencing, and the popularity of Skype induced us to test the tool and compare it with the other online collaboration solutions in our ranking. Of course, Skype is chiefly in use for private „meetings“, which is why the focus of the developers understandably rests on the functionalities most relevant to the consumer, as e.g. video calls. With the introduction of desktop sharing, however, Skype has provided business users with an essential functionality for web conferencing, next to VoIP and chat.

The major reason why we haven’t considered Skype so far is just as mundane as it is essential: If you want to use Skype you need an account! And since the world is not quite as black and white and doesn’t change with such breath-taking speed as Michael Arlington likes to suggest in his little „TechCrunch Hightech-Startup-Corner“ the overwhelming majority of business users worldwide simply does not comply with this crucial prerequisite. And if we want to remain realistic for just a second: This will not change all to soon. A lot of potential business users have a big enough workload as is without trying to find the right balance between VoIP and POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) at the workplace. And, not to forget, many companies deny their workers usage of Skype straight out.

Nevertheless, Skype is already being used as a web conferencing solution in some online collaboration scenarios. Especially teams that are spread out across the globe need to make sure to coordinate their efforts and often resort to Skype as a solution. By introducing Skype into our ranking we want to demonstrate what you can do with the tool in regards to online collaboration, and what it leaves to be desired in comparison with established web conferencing tools.

In our test we did not give demerits for the fact that only registered users with an account can share their screens. But we did downgrade the ranking for the biggest – and most painful – gap: Screen Sharing, unlike video conferencing, is only possible between two users! Other turn-offs are:
- Switching mouse and keyboard control is not possible in screen sharing mode;
- Skype offers no marking tools;
- A meeting cannot be scheduled in advance and invitations cannot be announced via mail or Outlook-calendar.

Michael Arrington from Techcrunch posted a blog-post called „Skype Screen Sharing Is A Huge (And Free) Productivity Tool“ in which he lists the major advantages of Skype, i.e. that usage is free of cost and very intuitive. This argument is not really valid. There are well-established, free-of-cost web conferencing tools such as Mikogo and DimDim that offer much more and allow meetings between anybody – not just registered users. Ok, true: with Skype’s “always-on” mode users can start a screen sharing session in five seconds. Most of the webconferencing solutions we tested need between fifteen seconds for scheduled meetings and 60 seconds for ad-hoc meetings. But come on! That cannot seriously be considered a great advantage of Skype. So this is not a relevant criterion either.

Third-party vendors of web conferencing solutions are of no real help when it comes to closing the gap of missing functionalities in their integrated Skype versions. Providers such as Innerpass, Oneeko, Yugma, VuRoom, and Yuuguu basically only offer meeting hosts to include Skype users in their invitations and use Skype’s VoIP functionality. The actual conference is then held with the providers’ own platform, not Skype.

Dimdim 5.5 boasts a number of useful enhancements

A new release can actually bring improvements. Dimdim’s ease of use has really been spiced up. Screen sharing is now possible with a single mouse click. Ad hoc invitations via mail or chat are also effortless, all it takes is a little plug-in that needs to be installed locally.

A meeting-independent URL is another new feature which didn’t convince us, though. It does allow attendees to quickly join meetings, but the host has less control over who is actually attending. The new “action” buttons that have been included on Dimdim’s online portal are also a wee bit too large, but hey, they do get your attention.

More about Dimdim here.