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.

Upgrade for Yugma Free web conferencing users

Looking at Yugma’s website today, it is still hard to tell if anything is happening or not. True, the date in the copyright has been changed to 2011, but otherwise there is not much going on if you check out the forums or the news section. And yet, the lights don’t seem to have gone out completely since we just received an email notifying us – as free users – of a change in policy that went into effect on January 4.

As of January 4th Yugma Free users will be able to have unlimited meeting per day. Users will be limited to 15 minutes of use per meeting but will otherwise be able to enjoy Yugma P2 functionality.

As an explanation, P2 is Yugma’s Premium package, the number indicating how many attendees may join the host in an online meeting. Now we were not quite sure if Yugma simply wants to make a minor change sound really good in their email, and if the aim is to get long-time Free users to upgrade to Premium.

If the website contains current information the statement in the email is not altogether true, since the website states that ”Yugma Webinar registration & Data Tracking” is not available in the Free version. There would also remain a difference in “Technical Support / Customer Service” since email and phone service is only available to Premium users (Yugma’s web conferencing features).

If the website contains old information the email is merely a PR effort since there really are no major differences between Free and Premium, except for the number of meetings per day. And granting Free users an unlimited amount of 15-minute-meetings a day is a rather questionable improvement, since how often have you been able to wrap up an entire meeting in 15 minutes?

We did gain insight to the fact that Yugma still seems to be actively providing their services. However, the quality of service and support remains uncertain, which is why we will stick to our decision of not including Yugma in our ranking of web conferencing solutions.

Yugma stays out! We just can’t take them back into our ranking.

In June 2009 we removed the online meeting solution Yugma from our ranking. Yugma had made it into the top 3. We made our decision to remove Yugma after we were notified of a planned company shut-down. Hearing that, we assumed that Yugma’s online meeting service would not be available on an ongoing basis.

We’ve been monitoring this issue and noticed that the Yugma website has remained up and running the whole time. Also, Yugma’s solutions are still available for tests or purchase in nearly unchanged format. So, were we wrong in our estimation 1 ½ years ago?

Take a look at Yugma.com and you will notice that the company’s site seems to have frozen since the announced shut-down: There are no new press releases, no support news, and only very few recent forum entries. A promo banner for “Yugma AV Beta” has been on the site for nine months now, under the category “coming soon”.

So we asked a former Yugma executive to fill us in on the situation. Here’s what he told us:

They are operating out of India largely, with a "storefront" in Minneapolis.

About the service ... you know that for Unified Conferencing type of services ... the biggest requirement is "Availability" and "Reliability". If you cannot guarantee uptime then no way will you be able to trust your mission-critical meetings on any service.

If a company does not have investments and runs out of India how can you guarantee international quality service? It's a chicken and egg problem. Which came first? How can you make new investments in technology, and invest in customer acquisition?

After a quick test this is what we currently can say about the online meeting services: Yugma’s solutions are still available and can be used. The server-infrastructure seems to remain intact. One of the newer forum entries points out that there are some problems when running the software on Windows Vista and Windows 7, so there definitely are still active users out there. However, we will not include Yugma in our ranking again: The reliability of the service remains too shaky for us to recommend it – with a clear conscience – as a web meeting software.

Putting all these objections aside for a moment: If we actually evaluated Yugma according to our testing criteria the solution would make its way directly back into the top 10 – this time as number 8, though.

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.

Thanks for the great site

We received the following feedback from Jamie on May 19, 2008:

Hi. I am starting a business called goginet.com and I need an interactive e-learning tool. I have been using your information to evaluate the different systems, and have found I agree with 95% of your recommendations/observations. Thanks for the great resource. I also like your openess about the affiliate programs, etc. Very cool to disclose it all. I have found Yugma to be very good. Perhaps it has evolved somewhat from the point you did the tests. Webex has what seems to be the only ecommerce package, but it is so expensive. Thanks again,
Jamie Robe