The first Website to provide a vendor-independent assessment of online meeting tools has now gone live at Webconferencing-test.com (www.webconferencing-test.com). The portal provides comparisons of all leading solutions – including Microsoft Live Meeting, Macromedia Breeze (now called Acrobat Connect Professional) Webex, and GoToMeeting from Citrix.
So reads the opening paragraph of a new press release out of Germany. Wonderful! A new resource for potential web conferencing customers, helping them separate marketing hype from real, objective testing. We need a lot more of that. Of course I immediately zipped over to the site to see what they had to say.
The first thing that struck me as unusual was the fact that there were no links to a product or service provider that would explain why somebody would take the time, effort, and expense to create the site and pay for its hosting. There weren't any banner ads, sponsors, or even standard Google text ads sprinkled around the site. Was this truly an altruistic gift to us, with no strings attached and no potential revenue stream for the creators? Past precedents and the business model of the Web make that seem unlikely.
Then I went to their summary chart of results. At the bottom of the page it declared Citrix GoToMeeting the winner of the competition. Then it offered a "Free trial account with the winning solution." There is a hyperlink to the trial registration site. That's strange... the other three vendors also have free trials available through direct links. Why aren't they listed on the site for easy customer comparison?
So I dug deeper. I checked the comments in the various feature fields. Starting with the first entry under "Ease of use" (Solution design/architecture) I find these comments for GoToMeeting: "Quick, easy and secure. Solution is quick and easy to use thanks to its low complexity; high cost transparency." Hmmm... That sounds like marketing copy that doesn't tell us anything. Quick, easy, and secure are generic adjectives and not very descriptive of a specific architecture or design. "High cost transparency" may be a mangled translation from the original German, but I can't figure out what it means.
"Planning effort" for GoToMeeting: "Planning is simple and intuitive." Kind of fuzzy, but encouraging in a generic way.
"Solution complexity" for GoToMeeting: "Intuitive user interface thanks to clearly structured menu design." Ummm, okay. Not a lot of specifics here either. What about the other tools? Live Meeting and WebEx both get: "Highly complex due to wide-ranging features..." Live Meeting "requires extensive FAQs and online support" while WebEx has "options that few users really need." That's a sweeping generalization of feature needs for the entire market! And strangely, Adobe Acrobat Connect has no comment at all.
By this time, I'm smelling a marketing machine at work. I spent a long time in enterprise software marketing myself. Some pawing through links took me to the website of the owners and creators of this utility. It is Publicare Marketing Communications GmbH. An email marketing firm put together a comparison of web conferencing vendors? How strange! Let's check their website and look for a client list. I don't speak German, but I think I can recognize some corporate names in the following sentence: "Zu unseren Kunden zahlen Unternehmen wie American Express, Citrix Systems, Compuware, Motorola und Ravensburger." Hey, kids! I just found Waldo!
Now I bear no ill will towards Citrix and GoToMeeting. I rather like their software and I think it works well. In a short time, they have moved from a small-time also-ran to a major competitor in the web conferencing world. I particularly like the fact that they recently expanded to handle formal events with GoToWebinar. But this is an example of underhanded and deceptive marketing practice and that really bugs me. If you want to tout your own product, do it. Marketing is important and serves a purpose. But give your readers the courtesy of knowing who has sponsored the work. And don't start out with a bald-faced lie stating that you are presenting "a vendor-independent assessment." For shame!
By the way, for past articles and opinions on the confusing subject of webinar and web conferencing vendor selection, you can browse these entries in the blog:
- Comparing Web Conferencing Comparisons
- New TMR Report on e-Learning Conferencing Products
- Summary of Forrester/WebEx Wave Webinar
- Vendor Comparison Available
- How To Grill A Web Conferencing Vendor
- Picking Through A Plethora of Providers
UPDATE (Nov 14, 2006): Robert Harnischmacher of Publicare has submitted a long and detailed response to this post (and others like it in the German blogosphere). I urge you to read it in the comments section to get their side of the story.
As I have said before, I think GoToMeeting/GoToWebinar are fine web conferencing applications and my beef was at no point an argument about product quality. I am also very glad to read Mr. Harnischmacher's explanation of the relationship between Publicare and Citrix and to see that the website and comparison tests were not a sponsored creation of the Citrix marketing department. They have added a full page to the website discussing the vendor independence issue (along with new Google ads, which invalidates my previous comments about no revenue generation or benefits to the authoring company).
I will leave my original post intact so that readers picking this up from a third-party reference site can see the context of the remarks from the beginning.
SECOND UPDATE (Feb 8, 2007): Publicare has extensively redesigned their site and I now fully endorse it as a useful tool for small business investigation into solutions appropriate for collaborative web conferencing. You can read my comments about the redesign in my new blog entry about webconferencing-test.com.
THIRD UPDATE (Aug 22, 2007): More updates and additions help expand the usefulness of the site. Read about the updates here: http://j.mp/HP3I79
FOURTH UPDATE (Jul 29, 2008): Even more updates to the site. Covered in this post: http://j.mp/HPyvwy
FIFTH UPDATE (Apr 3, 2012): The site now allows you to get side-by-side comparisons across selected vendors. More and more useful for evaluators, and I can easily recommend it. Full details in this post: http://j.mp/Hca9mh