As far as I can determine (and objective data is hard to come by these days), Cisco WebEx still has the highest market share in both web conferencing and “web events” (structured, larger audience webinars/webcasts). I checked with Andy Nilssen at Wainhouse Research, who backed my assumption. Forrester Research actually showed Cisco’s products running just behind Microsoft products in a self-reported survey of 1,000 information workers taken in late 2012, but Microsoft Live Meeting is a dead product, so I discount that for web events.
As the market leader, Cisco is the de facto standard-bearer of webinar technology for many users, and I think it needs to be held to a higher level of responsibility for proper functionality. WebEx has unmatched longevity and maturity in the marketplace and Cisco has more money and resources available for R&D than most vendors.
But the fact is, WebEx Event Center imposes far too many unnecessary frustrations for webinar hosts. There is simply no excuse for the limitations it imposes on administrators and moderators trying to set up and run effective business webinars.
I am going to briefly run through my top six gripes about the product. Aside from #1, these are not bugs per se, they are just bad design decisions. I have commented on some of them in this blog over the past decade. But as I wrote in 2012, Event Center doesn’t seem to have any forward momentum. That is a serious problem, and issues such as these don’t speak well for the industry leader.
On to specifics:
1) Improper PowerPoint Conversions. I’m not talking about fancy new things introduced in the latest PowerPoint 2014 release. Basic graphic shapes from PowerPoint 2003, 2007, and 2010 get misconverted and there seems to be no rhyme or reason why. I have test cases where connectors mysteriously extend the entire height of the slide. Text gets flipped. Adding an animation cuts off half an image. Fixing the problems is a matter of trial and error. Sometimes simply deleting and redrawing the shape on the source slide eliminates the bug, sometimes it doesn’t.
2) Registration/Landing Page. I honestly believe that WebEx is responsible for lowering registration performance for its customers’ webinars. Landing pages are used for event description, event registration, and event login. The triple-duty use is confusing to casual attendees. The registration button is boring and monochromatic and is placed too far from the rest of the information blocks that catch the eye. It does not adequately drive action.
Once someone clicks it and gets to the registration page itself, field layout is arbitrary and cosmetically poor.
Here is a simple registration page viewed in a browser with narrow margins. Notice that First/Last name are separated horizontally, while email and confirmation are vertical. The vendor-supplied Country/region dropdown is auto-filled with a default answer of United States of America, resulting in false data reported for any registrant who doesn’t bother to change it (not to mention the inappropriateness for international webinars).
Here is the same registration page in a wide browser window. There are huge gaps between labels and fields, and so much distance between First name/Last name that they don’t seem to have any relation to each other.
3) Playback Polls. During a live webinar, you can show percentage results from interactive polls and hide the number of raw votes (very useful if you wish to hide a small turnout). But if you allow display of poll results in your recording playback, viewers can always see the number of raw votes.
4) Attendance Reports. You can’t get official attendance reports out of the system for 24 hours after a live event. No other vendor in the industry has this limitation. The registration report has a column for whether people attended, but the data is not consistent with the attendance report. The attendance report shows multiple records for participants who disconnect/reconnect during the webinar. To get a report of unique attendees and do subsequent statistics on responses, you have to manually cross-check and edit the spreadsheet.
5) Audio Settings. Once you start an event, you cannot change important settings such as turning entry/exit tones on/off, or enabling/disabling integrated VoIP for participants and panelists.
6) Chat/Q&A. If you start your event in “Practice Mode” to allow panelists to talk to each other in private, the host can type messages to attendees, but they are blocked from typing anything to the host/panelists. This violates best practices for encouraging interaction early. Once the webinar starts, there is no way to allow open/group chat where all participants see all messages. Bizarrely, there is a setting that allows attendees to send public messages to all other attendees, but the host and panelists cannot see the messages! I can’t even imagine a situation where this would be desirable.
Cisco WebEx Event Center is still a powerful webinar technology. I particularly like its strong two-way integration between telephone and computer audio for global audiences. But as I wrote almost two years ago, “It is time for Event Center to get the innovation engines running again.” I’m still waiting.