Web Conferencing, Video Conferencing and Online Meeting Services!  Last updated 11/17/2018.

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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.

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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
  • Surveying
  • 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.

Co-browsing

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.

Text messaging

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 practical.

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 future reference.

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 group participants.

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 business packages.

Enterprise Solutions

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 whistles.

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 permission.
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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