Why use web conferencing #2: Usage scenarios for online meetings

In the search for a suitable web conferencing solution, the first question is: What will the tool be used for? In principle, tools are distinguished by two key factors: the number of participants they support, and the functions available for online meetings.

A traditional model is the one-to-one scenario, which is commonly employed to provide user support on software issues. At the other end of the spectrum, there are virtual conferences or trainings with large audiences, such as customer conventions, road shows, or webinars. For these scenarios, functions such as effective invitation management, integrated mute functions, and superimposed surveys and results are key. Between these two extremes, there are online meetings where smaller project teams work together from different locations spontaneously yet effectively – e.g. to discuss project plans or edit documents.

Small teams of two to ten, or even twenty people have different requirements when it comes to web-conference solutions: Setting up an online meeting should be quick and easy so it can be initiated ad hoc to accompany a phone call. In this case, it must be determined whether a tool enables users to start web conferences without prior invitation. Or whether a solution automatically generates email invitations that can be sent and read using common email clients. It is also crucial that new participants can be invited to a conference that is already under way – whether per email, URL, or by providing an access code for a conference call.

During meetings, any features that enable flexible, media-rich communications between all participants are important as e.g. the ability to switch between views of various users’ desktops, or to highlight or mark up content on the desktop currently being shown. Depending on the purpose of the conference, it may also be necessary to determine whether and how documents can be edited by multiple users at once. Chat functions facilitate communications between individual guests and the recording of web conferences is also useful if the interaction needs to be documented.

There are many good web conferencing solutions on the market which give you the opportunity to find the perfect fit for your company’s specific requirements. You will find details to the best tools in our ranking.

Why use web conferencing #1: The additional value of online collaboration

How can you best substitute face-to-face meetings if you need to save on travel cost? And is there a way to enable day-to-day, spontaneous and straightforward collaboration on projects or documents over the Internet? When faced with these questions a lot of companies immediately think of video conferences, which is a bit short sighted. True, you can see whom you are talking to. But how do you hold a presentation or work on a document with the other participants?

Sending documents back and forth via email also is not really a solution. And even instant messaging services such as Jabber, IRC, or AIM cannot truly compete with web conferencing. Those services simply impose too many restrictions, with demanding every participant have an account with the respective service as the top hindrance of easy meeting setup.

A good web conferencing solution only requires the host to download a small piece of software. He can then invite participants by sending them a link to the virtual meeting place, which means that all you need as a participant is a functioning Internet connection. What’s more, nearly all web conferencing solutions include a messaging functionality that allow two or more participants to communicate via text chat, without interrupting or stalling the meeting. Participants can share and work on documents, hold presentations, and much more.

So really the question shouldn’t be IF you should use a web conferencing solution for virtual meetings but rather what other functionalities online collaboration services offer you for your specific usage scenario.

You can check out our test approach here to learn more about the functionalities offered by web conferencing solutions and how they weigh into our evaluation.

Why should companies consider web conferencing?

In this Blog we talk a lot about the pros and cons of specific tools. True, we enjoy giving a thumbs up or down, but we think it is time to take a step back and have a look at the whole of web conferencing. The thing is: web conferencing tools are constantly improving and making life easier for small to medium businesses, but awareness is still growing slowly – even though researchers indicate the market for web conferencing solutions will grow significantly over the next 5 years.

We published an article in the renowned German IT magazine iX in which we looked at web conferencing as a whole. We will try to present you this article in condensed form, by splitting it into a four-part series.

Part one will point out the differences between web conferencing and IM services or video conferences. In part two we will delve into the usage scenarios of online collaboration services. Part three will feature one of our favorite topics: how can you best share documents when conferencing? The final part four will look at what you need to be aware of when making your choice of which solution you want to use.

So stay tuned and feel free to contact us any time with feedback and questions.