How Web Conferencing Works -- Exposing the Realities of Virtual Collaboration
By Lucy P. Roberts
The words web conferencing encompass so many functions these days that
sometimes people aren’t sure what really falls under the umbrella of the term
and what doesn’t. Is web conferencing an activity, a type of software, or a set
of features? In the simplest terms, the answer is “yes” to all three questions
-- it can be all of these things in one form or another. To understand how that
can be, you need to understand the basics of how web conferencing works.
Web conferencing is basically any kind of collaborative conference that takes
place via the World Wide Web between two or more participants in different
locations. It doesn’t matter if they are in different rooms or halfway around
the world from each other, so long as the meeting is being conducted over the
Internet. Audio, text or video can be utilized for communicating, sometimes in
real time, sometimes in an asynchronous environment, depending upon the type of
web conferencing system being used.
Add-ons make all the difference
The key to web conferencing, however, is that it always includes additional
components that take it beyond simply communicating back and forth as though
using a video phone system. Web conferencing enhances communication with the
addition of several other collaborative technologies to enhance meeting
functionality. Some of these may include:
- Co-browsing of the Internet
- Text messaging
- Applications and file sharing
- Desktop sharing
- PowerPoint presentations
- White boards
- Meeting rooms or private URLs
- Store, record and replay capabilities
- Scheduling programs
Web conferencing works by combining one of more of these additional elements
with the audio/video elements of conferencing so that participants can have what
seems to be literally an “in the room” meeting with visual aids, shared papers
and files and exchanges of information in real time.
This is the ability for two or more remote members of a web conference to
simultaneously browse the same sites on the Internet. It can be a very effective
customer service tool -- walking an important client through information on a
corporate website as you are conferencing is an effective and personal touch. It
can also be used to walk customers through specs or product descriptions during
a sale while you are on the line with them.
The traditional instant messaging option, which is great for sending
questions around during a presentation or when you want a hard copy of a
response. It can also be used in lieu of audio when audible conferencing isn’t
Applications and file sharing
This isn’t just zapping a file back and forth via email. This means actually
sharing a file or files and applications because you have a shared workspace to
be used and accessed by all members of your conference group.
You can tailor file sharing so that documents you show may be simply viewed
by everyone in your conference group, with all of your ongoing edits being
visible, or so that others may also do real-time edits of the document from
their remote location.
In fact, you may grant access to your own desktop during the conference if
you wish to allow access to your applications. This is the desktop sharing
feature, and is quite a common feature for technical conferencing with computer
systems specialists who need to be able to network into your computer to see
what’s up if there is a problem.
Other web conferencing functions
PowerPoint presentations, the dearly loved presentation tool, can be
simultaneously presented to all participants in your web conference for visual
impact. With file sharing, everyone can download and keep the presentation for
White boards are just like the marker boards in a real office, but
done online. You may set them for broadcast only so that everyone can see your
mark-ups and additions in real time, or make them interactive so that all
participants can make their own changes and revisions to the board.
If your conferences rely on feedback from participants, automatic
surveying features can be built in to make it easy to tabulate and record
responses. Store, record and reply capabilities also make it easy to
record entire conferences for later playback. If someone misses a conference,
they can replay it at a later date and reply at their leisure to individual or
Scheduling programs make web conferencing quick and easy by sending
alerts to participants and updating and synchronizing group web conference
calendars. A variety of security features include encryption to prevent
tampering by those outside the conference administrative team.
There’s a web conference solution for every size business
Ten years ago web conferencing was the domain of enterprise size businesses
because it was a costly, high-end investment. It only made sense if a company
was going to use it on a very large scale to defray the hefty price tag.
However, with Internet costs going down and broadband connections making web
conferencing more practical, more web conferencing options have become
available. And, as always happens, with competition comes competitive pricing.
Today there are web conferencing packages from enterprise solutions to small
The leaders in enterprise level web conferencing have always been WebEx and
Raindance. Both of these providers offer a choice of bundled options that
provide everything you could think of in the way of web conferencing bells and
WebEx offers a variety of options, including Meeting Center, Training Center,
and Support Center, all web conferencing applications designed with specific
corporate needs in mind. One of their stand-out offerings is Presentation
Studio, an on-demand web conferencing application that can be used to offer
training tips, sales presentations and follow-ups to whole teams or entire
companies at the convenience of each staff member.
WebEx’s SMARTTech is a web based technical support application that enables
access to thousands of centrally linked computers. It uses web conferencing for
applications only access to do routine maintenance, software upgrades and
troubleshooting remotely, even without the remote operator present.
Raindance excels at client service, providing support personnel for those
enterprise level clients who may need support in the event they only
occasionally use web conferencing. You can contact Raindance and have a personal
assistant aid you with your Web Conferencing Pro conference for up to 2,500
participants, from pre-polling participants to wrap-up and maintaining a
participant list for your corporate records.
Raindance Meeting Edition is for smaller groups and provides greater
interactivity. Moderator features like muting, chat and participant disconnect
mean precise control of all meetings for the leader of any group.
SMEs and SOHOs can choose leaner versions of web conferencing
Small and medium enterprise businesses have a wide range of choices right now
because the market is filled with web conferencing companies that provide
mid-range services in a buffet-style so that they can pick a range of features
to fit their needs. Some of the better known web conferencing companies in this
mid range include IMConferencing, Communicast and GoToMeeting.
Small office and home office users have less choice simply because they don’t
have the available cash flow (in most cases) to spend on a regular web
conferencing solution that would tie them to multiple users on a regular basis.
Fortunately, in most cases they also don’t need to be networking via the web
with 2,000 people simultaneously, so they won’t necessarily be missing the
features that aren’t available in the more streamlined offerings for SOHOs. Two
leaders for small business web conferencing that do provide reliable service are
GRCLive and Voxwire, although their approaches are quite different.
GRCLive caters to the small business owner who will grow into a medium-sized
business owner, or the medium business owner who is just starting out with web
conferencing. The company offers three levels: GRC Lite, which can link 5-10
users for text chat and document sharing with a few other features, but no audio
or video (a good start for those not yet comfortable with broadcast style
meetings), GRC Business Edition, which adds audio and video, and GRC Pro, which
significantly increases the users capability. The costs range from $30 to $500
per month, with options and price differences within each group.
Voxwire is a “strictly basics” web conferencing service. Yes, you can post
documents for viewing. Yes, you can do audio/video conferencing and text
messaging. No, you can’t have a white board or document interactivity. The
beauty of Voxwire is the price; you can have ten people in a virtual conference
room for unlimited use for only $29.95 a month -- much less than your long
distance bills would be. If you have a home office and one person you regularly
need to contact, get a personal meeting room for only $9.95 a month for the two
of you and talk all you want.
Web conferencing will continue to grow and expand, with new features and more
interactive features every year. As the global community and Internet
connectivity continues to explode, it’s only natural that more and more
companies will take advantage of how easy it is to bring their far-flung teams
together with web conferencing.
This article on the "How Web Conferencing Works" reprinted with
Copyright © 2004-2005 Evaluseek Publishing.
About the Author
Lucy P. Roberts is a successful freelance writer providing practical information and advice for businesses about everything related to web conferencing software and web based meetings. Her numerous articles include tips for saving both time and money; product reviews and reports; and other valuable insights for persons searching the Internet for information about the history of web conferencing and related topics.
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