We recently tweaked the structure of webconferencing-test.com and have added new functionality comparison tables to the site – which you can find under the menu item Functional comparisons. This new setup allows our visitors to compare online meeting tools on a single page and get a side-by-side overview of solutions that offer the functionality they are most interested in. Continue reading
Last weekend, the biggest update in the six-year history of webconferencing-test.com went live. Almost all aspects of our portal have been reworked to enhance the value and the usability of the site:
- Compare Tools Pro now allows visitors to compile a tailored dossier of data from our 30-plus tool tests, offering detailed information on over 80 functions and criteria for all solutions. The service (which is subject to a charge) supports organizations in simplifying and accelerating the expensive and time-consuming process of evaluating web conferencing platforms.
Citrix, Adobe and Cisco: Three of the biggest online meeting solutions vendors have now integrated video functionality into their solutions. We checked them out and here is what we found:
All three tools offer not only video but rather HD video. And yes, the quality is very impressive. Citrix GoToMeeting limits the number of webcam participants to 6 unlike Cisco WebEx which allows up to 500 participants or Adobe Connect 8 where you have no restrictions at all. But as always bigger isn’t necessarily better. One downside of a video conference with let us say 20 participants is that you will need a lot of bandwidth to really get that HD quality. And with every new participant that joins the webcams on display just get smaller and smaller. Now we haven’t tried it with 20 participants ourselves but it probably is hard to see who is actually speaking.
Video has been in use privately for quite some time but has been ridiculously slow in regards of becoming really useful for business online collaboration. Now that an increasing number of employees who need to attend or host online meetings either have a mobile computing device with a built-in camera or an external webcam plugged in, web conferencing vendors feel the time has come to integrate video into their solutions. And since internet connections are getting faster and faster why not go to HD while they are at it?
Now where does this leave us and our ranking of online meeting tools? Well, first of all there will be no shift of focus. We will not rank a tool higher just because it makes it possible for you to wave into a camera. The focus will remain on functionalities that enable and/or enhance online collaboration. Desktop screen sharing and the document- and information-centric joint working with applications really is the key to all online collaboration technologies.
So far we had only figured in video at the margin, giving a tool a minor increase in overall score if it enabled video. But this yes/no logic really does not reflect this specific functionality well enough anymore. If a vendor offers video in his software we want to know the following:
- Can you scale the videos? It is really annoying if you have huge heads staring at you while you try to read text on a presentation that is displayed in a corner of the screen. Users should be able to move cameras and re-size them to their liking.
- How does a tool handle the enormous amount of data being streamed? The software must be backed up by a powerful server infrastructure that can handle all data upstreams and downstreams. Regardless of the number of participants or the single participants’ internet connection the tool must deliver video without compromising the overall quality of the online meeting.
- Are voice and video connected? If two or three people are in a conference it is fairly easy to identify the speaker. But if you have six participants in a conference and are discussing a document that is being displayed you do not want to be stuck having to check whose lips are moving. So the current speaker should be highlighted by the tool.
- Are voice and video not only connected but in sync? You don’t want to be talking and see that on the screen your lips are moving a second later than when you are actually forming the words.
We will consider these options – and potentially more we might consider useful – in our future tests and make sure that video has a greater influence on overall score than it currently has. Video can really enhance an online meeting if it is integrated into the software wisely. Video functionality must seamlessly fit into the tool and really offer the users an additional advantage. It is all about user friendliness and if video doesn’t enhance the usability of a web conferencing solution it shouldn’t be integrated in the first place.
We at Online Meeting Tools Review have treated video conferencing as a side aspect so far. But there currently is a trend in the online collaboration market to include high quality video into well structured web conferencing tools, opening up many new possibilities for holding online meetings.
Until recently video was basically being used in businesses for the following two scenarios:
Scenario 1: Many larger companies had proprietary high-end conferencing systems installed in dedicated meeting rooms, based on the technology provided by Cisco, Polycom, Tandberg and the likes. These served as a somewhat expensive toy in C-Level meetings spread over various locations and even continents.
Scenario 2: Teams spread over different locations make use of low-end solutions. There are basically two ways for teams to collaborate using video conferencing technology:
- Freeware such as Skype and now also Google+ hangouts are an easy way to connect. The only requirement is that all participants need to have an account for the respective platform before they can start a video conference. With Skype users get some web conferencing functionalities as the tool allows e.g. screen sharing. However, many organizations prohibit users from using tools like Skype, due to security concerns.
- Apple and Microsoft make it possible: Teams can also collaborate via tools that are tied to the respective OS or vendor-based server technologies, such as Apple’s iChat and Microsoft’s Lync and OCS (Office Communication Server). These do work pretty well for video conferencing, however typically only within the organization’s firewall.
Another general restriction to video conferencing used to be the relatively low number of users with webcams. This is becoming less of an issue due to huge increases in mobile devices which usually feature a built-in webcam of some sorts and of course cheap external devices that can be used via plug and play. Privately these have been used for quite some time now and web conferencing vendors are now feeling conditions have changed sufficiently for them to integrate video into their solutions and actually offer customers additional value by doing so.
So with business users having their webcams in place, strong enough internet connections to actually allow HD (High Definition) video streaming it seems that conditions are near perfect for web conferencing vendors to integrate video into their tools. We will give you our take on this trend shortly and we’ll let you know how we will be figuring video functionality into our overall ranking.
Are you currently using a video conferencing solution on a regular basis for business purposes? If so just leave a comment and let us know what solution you are using and how that is working out for you.
Next to giving us feedback on our evaluation and ranking of online meeting solutions our readers approach us with questions that make us go “Waaait a minute. Why is that???” Point in case: Why is nonverbal communication hardly ever considered in web conferencing scenarios?
Let us leave the digital arena and look at good old face-to-face communication – remember that? Now here, obviously, nonverbal communication is essential to guiding understanding. Gestures e.g. can be used to signal approval or to show that you have a question. Even nodding the head carries a message, and don’t get me started on overall body language. So yes, the nonverbal aspect of communication is integral in a face-to-face scenario.
And it partially applies to online meetings, too. If all participants are on webcams that will make it a lot easier to interact than just talking on the phone would. One drawback, however, is that with multiple participants being displayed on your screen you could end up being more confused than informed (see our post on video conferencing).
For webinars nonverbal communication is of marginal help if any. Question marks or a thumbs up – thumbs down signal for the listeners are a gimmick rather than an essential part of communication. During a webinar the silent listeners in most cases have the chance to submit questions to the presenter via chat. These questions are then later discussed in a Q&A session following the presentation. Clicking a question mark button is only an indication of the fact THAT you don’t understand something. You would still have to explain WHAT exactly you don’t understand. And hitting a like or dislike button during e.g. a product presentation doesn’t seem to likely – if you are not a competitor trying to crash the presentation, that is.
So bottom line: Nonverbal communication only plays a minor role in online meetings. The only way of making up for the consequential lack of information that is usually provided by nonverbal signals is to be even more precise in how you phrase things.
Integrating video functionality into web conferences is the new hot topic in online collaboration and many vendors are promoting their new video HD functionalities. Those of you that are tingling with excitement brace yourselves: here’s the reality check.
Let’s start with the basics of online collaboration. The paradigm here is that you want to share your virtual workspace, the center of your activities with others: your desktop – and yes, some might only want to share documents via their browser, which is fine, too. Now, along comes HD video, allowing you to share documents while listening to each other and actually seeing each other in high-res. Well ain’t that just a peach? No its not.
Having up to six participants displayed next to the desktop you want to see can be quite a distraction. And honestly, if someone is introducing a new product via web conference does it really matter what the presenter looks like? Shouldn’t the focus be on the presentation?
The most likely usage scenario for video conferencing is within teams whose members are situated at multiple locations. Skype and iChat enable video conferencing in such a scenario already today and it does make sense for web conferencing providers to include the video functionality for these cases. Next to such internal meetings of globally spread teams video conferencing can also make sense in a one-to-many scenario, i.e. one person presents to an audience and appears in a small window on the viewers’ screens. But then again that could just end up being a distraction.
From a technical perspective delivering HD video conferencing is possible thanks to the widespread accessibility of broadband. BUT: just as with audio conferencing there is one major setback. Not everybody has a decent webcam, or any webcam at all. So just as with VoIP some users might be excluded simply because the peripheral equipment needed is not in place.
The main driver of video conferencing is the quality of video and we predict that usage will increase, although mainly in familiar surroundings with your colleagues and not with your customer you are trying to impress with your presentation. And lets face it, this does have another huge advantage: If you slept on your hair funny right before your big presentation nobody will know…