Greetings from the Collaborative Technologies Conference in Boston. After a ridiculously early morning flight, I've surveyed the action after half a day and bring you the early word.
A conference organizer told me they were estimating 700-800 person attendance, but I have to say that my eyeball estimate would be half that many. Still, it's hard to do an accurate count and I have no reason to accuse them of prevarication.
Sessions are a varied mix of high-level concept presentations ("The Social Life of Learning in the Networked Age", "Compliance and Collaboration: Did you cross your Ts and dot your Is?") and specifics dealing with software and applications ("Case Studies in Collaborative Technology for Education", "Microsoft vs. Lotus: Comparative Analysis"). Kudos to the brave people at Mindjet and Facilitate.com for daring to throw in a session about running effective face-to-face meetings. You mean people still do that?!? :)
The demo pavilion has a wide mix of companies. Big names include Microsoft, Cisco, Nortel Networks, and IBM. But there are quite a few up 'n comers I saw for the first time. Collaborative technologies covers a range of interests, and companies are showing off everything from content management, workflow, email, video conferencing, calendaring, and multi-person user interfaces to larger sized web conferencing and webinar solutions.
SMART Board has two electronic whiteboards on easels set up across the room from each other. You can draw on one with an electronic marker pen and have the information show up simultaneously on the other. But an even cooler user interface is being demonstrated by a guy from Mitsubishi Electronic Labs. Sitting over in a corner, he has a laptop hooked up to a small video projector mounted vertically on a pole. It is projecting the screen contents down onto a horizontal table. Four small stools are set around the table. If you sit on a stool, a pressure pad registers your presence and you can start drawing with your fingers on the screen image on the table. Multiple people can touch the image at once and draw rectangles around items, highlight others, or make freehand annotations. The display software keeps the annotations separate and color coded, even when two people overlap on their markings. It is a gas to watch and play with. The technology is just moving from prototype to commercial application and needs to be scaled for volume and realistic pricing. Right now it's over $10K for a setup, not counting computer or projector. The easiest applications I could think of to use this were military commanders surveying a battlefield and marketing coordinated battle plans, or surgeons collaborating on an MRI image or X-Ray and deciding on their surgical strategy.
Convoq is showing off their newly announced integration with Salesforce.com, where you can pull up a Salesforce contact name and immediately start a conferencing session with that person. They also have a new app called PitchASAP that lets external visitors to a website push a button and start a conference with a rep. It turns the activation of a conference over to the customer and gives them the power to be proactive.
I was fascinated by Trumba Corporation's Trumba Calendar platform. It lets a company organize large lists of events (internal meetings, external conferences, web events) so that users can pick through the list and download reminders into their personal calendars.
No presence from most of the big name web seminar software vendors. Microsoft was the exception, showing off Live Meeting in conjunction with its Unified Communications products and vision. Adobe is also here with its Macromedia Breeze acquisition. And as mentioned earlier, Convoq has its ASAP lineup on display. I also saw that Interwise has a booth, but I haven't had a chance to talk to them yet. I'll get to them later. But no WebEx, Raindance, Centra, Citrix, iLinc, Vcall, ON24, etc. I think these companies should work on making one-to-many web conferences part of the collaborative technologies perception. Collaborating with one's customers and employees in group sessions is just as valid a use of the terminology as small brainstorming sessions. There aren't many forums that include web seminar technology as a featured subject, so I'm surprised these vendors don't take advantage of their few opportunities.
Premiere Global Services is here and took me through a nice discussion of their offerings in the web conferencing world. I have used Premiere on many occasions handling the telephone audio side of a webinar while I used a dedicated web technology for the visuals. They have a good professional setup. They told me that they recently announced a partnership with Adobe to add Breeze to their lineup of resold web conferencing software. So you can set up an integrated telephone/web conference using WebEx, Live Meeting, or Breeze and get a single invoice through Premiere. According to Stacy, their marketing manager, they are the only audio provider to have a complete integrated audio partnership with Breeze so you can manage call-in participants through the web interface. They also have an in-house solution called Netspoke, which is designed for smaller meetings and less complex needs. It is designed for ease of use and a short learning curve when a customer doesn't want to get into the intricacies of the third-party vendor packages.
That's enough for a first blush overview. Time to get back and do some more digging.
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