Webinar, web conference, web meeting, webcast. Compare and contrast.
Is there really any difference between these terms? I have seen sites go to some lengths to make distinctions and offer specific criteria for using one term over another in different scenarios. But I would have to say that common usage allows for complete interchangeability. Let's remember that all of these are coined expressions and you are not bound by the scriptures of the fine folks at Merriam-Webster.
I use 'webinar' as my shorthand reference phrase of choice. When I use this completely made up word, I am including all forms of web based communications relying on specialized software that allow people to share information between remote PC's using the internet. But if you press me, I suppose I can take a crack at some distinctions.
'Web meeting' is awfully generic and could easily fit the bill for any type of web-based interaction. But the term is most often used in a formal sense to indicate an interactive session between small numbers of participants. Think of a departmental brainstorming session. Usually not more than 10 people are involved and everyone is expected to actively contribute. Important software features for these kinds of meetings include shared whiteboarding, graphic annotations, document markup, and full 2-way voice interactions. You might find this software used for interactive sessions with a technical support representative for a technical product.
'Webcast' typically refers to a one-way broadcast of information from a presenter to a passive audience. The idea is to broadcast your message effectively. Software for webcasts should concentrate on universality of access and ease of reception. Uses include shareholder meetings, disclosure of structured information, and advertising messages.
I'd say that 'web seminar', 'webinar', and 'web conference' are synonymous and fall between the previous two terms. In these situations, the information flow is mostly from a presenter to an audience, but some audience participation is expected. Software should allow well-managed handling of questions and answers between the presenters and audience, private vs. public chatting, registration management, and so on. This is the sweet spot for the big market share leaders such as WebEx, Microsoft Live Meeting, and Raindance. I most often find these terms used for marketing presentations.
There is another common use for this software that doesn't have its own coined term. Web-based training can be done with several of the leading vendor packages. In these cases, you want to look for the ability to segment students into different groups, present quizzes or formal tests, allow teacher/student collaboration on live session work, and so on.
Does the terminology matter? Not really. It is more helpful to think through your desired applications of the technology and then make sure you have the features that will support your needs. And remember, Webinar Success offers assistance with basic determination of your requirements and vendor selection. We never accept commissions from any software vendor and can give you a completely objective analysis and recommendation.