Web Conference Comparisons
How to Tell Which Web Conferencing App is Right for You
What Features you can Expect in a Web Conferencing Application
Effective web conference programs are developed by a number of companies, but their specific features can vary. So how can you tell which application is right for you? We’ve put together a quick reference guide with basic features you should expect when make a comparison, and also a number of advanced tools that provide a significant advantage depending on your business needs.
Text chat, similar to instant messaging but with multiple people, can seem like a insignificant feature on its own. In fact, it’s incredibly useful because you can ask questions and make comments without interrupting a speaker. This should be offered on any application that you’re thinking of purchasing.
The majority of applications allow users to share a real-time view of their desktop to other users. There isn’t much to explain here, although there are different levels of sophistication to this feature that you may find useful, like the ability to share only specific applications (more on that later).
The ability to record sessions and make them available to others is an powerful tool, and invaluable if you plan to use your web conferencing program to create webinars. Serious buyers should only choose an application that allows you to record and share sessions, because the alternative severely limits the program’s versatility.
Easy Meeting setup and management (online portal)
The more use you get out of web conferencing, the more meetings and webinars you’ll have. Being able to manage upcoming online meetings through an intuitive interface is necessary for staying organized. If an application doesn’t have this feature, or it’s not easily comprehended, you’re better off elsewhere.
Browser vs Flash vs Application
A number of web conferencing applications are able to run in browsers or in Flash. Others require an installation of a Java or executable meeting room, but usually offer better overall performance. Generally, browser-built applications, although they sound like a good idea, are not always stable and predictable. Flash-based applications allow for a happy medium but have a different set of limitations.
While is a meetings with larger groups, its very likely you’ll want to ask quick questions via a text interface, and most any system should supply the means to do this. If you can store the answers for future reference, that is also helpful.
This should be a common feature, but our research indicated that it isn’t standard on a number of applications. A thoughtful developer should include compatibility for both PC and Mac computers. Linux users will have a much harder time finding suitable web conferencing programs, but they’re usually well-versed in workarounds to such issues.
Advanced (Uncommon) Features
Application Specific Sharing
We talked earlier about how many web conferencing programs allow you to share your entire desktop. Application specific sharing allows you to share individual windows instead of the entire screen. This keeps information on your desktop private, keeps viewer’s attention on what you are sharing and can provide faster updates for viewers. A further enhancement on this is the ability to select a single application and have it be the only thing shown regardless of what you actively use during the meeting.
CoBrowsing is a unique feature that we rarely find on web conferencing applications. Essentially, it allows the presenter to guide attendees to specific web pages without the steep bandwidth requirements of sharing your desktop. Instead, the feature leverages to power of the attendee’s machine to download the page. Other benefits include the ability for attendees to interact directly with the page and continue on their own. In simple terms it’s a web browser built into your web conferencing application. While other features can accomplish something similar, the massive bandwidth required to stream pages to 25 or 50 attendees can bring your meeting to a grinding halt. CoBrowsing provides all the benefits of a shared browsing experience without taxing your network.
Instant Form Creation and Instant Results
This feature isn’t complex, but can provide an enormous advantage if you understand the implications. Instant form creation means you can ask attendess to answer a few simple questions, whether it’s contact information, feedback, or a response to an issue in a development meeting. The answers can either be sent to the presenter, displayed to the entire group, saved to an excel file, or all three depending on the program. The power of this feature relies on the strength and creativity of the user. In the right hands, it can help you generate leads, improve your product or presentation, or find solutions to company issues.
File Transfer and Storage
Don’t confuse file transfers with document sharing. File transfers offer more versatility because you can make nearly any file available to attendees and it won’t disrupt the meeting. This is perfect for large projects, video, or pretty much anything you can think of. Like form creation, file transfer is an incredibly versatile tool whose strengths depend on the user.
We didn’t see this feature on the majority of web conferencing applications, even though it’s simple to use and enhances the value of any presentation or webinar. An Exit Lobby allows the presenter to direct outgoing attendees to specific URLs as a way of making a final impression. That link can send people to a relevant product page, the storage site for presentation materials, or even a quick note thanking them for their time.
Company Branded Meeting Portals
Some people say you can never underestimate the power of vanity, and it applies to web conferencing tools as well. Some systems allow you to brand any or all of the functional parts of the interface with your company logo and colors. It can also contribute professionalism and company ownership when employees see their company colors whenever they enter into a web meeting.
Locally Hosted Servers for Ultimate Security
This is a fairly new and exclusive feature that some companies will find invaluable. At the moment, all major web conferencing applications utilize remotely-hosted servers to handle web meetings. While all of them have some sort of network security in place, they can’t eliminate network threats. At least one application offers clients the opportunity to install and host local servers within the company intranet. This feature allows for a truly closed system that can be impervious to outside threats.
Remote Control is an interesting feature that has many possibilities. One major use is for IT support, where an employee can pass control to a support specialist to allow them to fix technical issues. This is much easier than trying to describe issues or implement fixes over the phone, and allows support personnel to operate from where they’re most effective, their workstation.
Same Capabilities for Attendees and Presenters
Many company’s provide one application for presenters, and another for attendees. This hinders collaboration because it limits who can do what in a given meeting. More advanced applications have an all-in-one design, all the features are provided in a single piece of software.
Multiple User Video Conferencing
This feature is starting to show up in more and more conferencing applications. It allows multiple users to utilize video and audio chat simultaneously. It can depend on your available bandwidth so some company’s may not find it viable or incredibly useful.