Training Media Review just published a report on the Leading Synchronous Systems for conducting web-based training. I hadn't come across the term "synchronous systems" before, but rest assured that they are talking about software for presenting and interacting over the web. They didn't want to call the software "web conferencing," "webcasting," or "webinar" systems, because the company is focusing on how well the vendors support e-Learning.
The products selected for the Synchronous Systems report include Adobe's Macromedia Breeze, Saba's Centra, Elluminate Live!, iLinc's LearnLinc, Interact Now from Thomson NETg, the Interwise Enterprise Communications Platform, Microsoft Office Live Meeting, and WebEx Training Center. Not a bad representation... Not comprehensive, but that is getting difficult to accomplish in this rapidly growing field! The software chosen for review tends to represent the most used tools in the e-Training space, which does not map exactly to the larger web conferencing universe.
The report costs $75 and is delivered as a 56-page PDF document by email. I paid online at night (you can use a credit card or have them invoice you) and received my copy the next morning. The results are part of TMR's copyrighted intellectual property and I'm not about to sabotage their sales and hard work by giving it away for free here. But I have a few thoughts after reading it.
First, I can point to a couple of statements made right in the first page introduction (which is posted for free on their site, so I feel comfortable in providing the link). They start out with the admonition that all these software tools rely upon well-trained users. There are a lot of features and learning how to install, configure, and drive each one is a non-trivial task. They also point out that it doesn't matter how good your technology is, your content is the most important thing. A bad course content (like a bad presentation) delivered with nifty software tools is still a lousy experience for your audience.
The report uses a combination of commentary, reviews, customer experiences, and tables/charts to cover the products. I was amused by the initial overview tables listing basic functionality areas and asking for a Yes/No response from the vendors on whether it was handled by the software. Guess what... All the vendors said "YES" to all features! That's one of the reasons I don't provide clients with this kind of a standard checklist for doing vendor comparisons. The differences are in HOW they accomplish tasks and in how completely they manage the functionality, and in how easy it is to use in a practical scenario, and whether it fits your needs. The TMR crew recognizes and addresses this up front. There is no such thing as a "best product." There is such a thing as a product that will work best for your specific needs and priorities. When helping clients select a web conferencing vendor, I start off with a complete needs assessment of how it will be used, who will use it, and what the priorities are for measuring satisfaction. Only then can you evaluate a webinar technology for its proper fit.
The report also acknowledges the fact that comparing pricing for these products is a lesson in frustration. Pricing may be different from the vendor and its resellers, vendors may use different calculation models (fixed price vs. per minute for instance), and a single company may offer different price models to meet a customer's preferences. TMR uses an analogy I have used in the past... negotiating a contract with a web conferencing vendor can be a lot like buying a used car. You can often "work with" the salesman to find a deal.
Once you get into the meat of the report, each product's review is very nicely put together. They offer detailed feature charts, contact information, impressions from the standpoint of installation, reliability, power, and ease of use, anecdotes from customers, and so on.
I think that the $75 cost is money well spent if you are in the market for a web-based utility to help you present online training. Even if you have a vendor right now, this can give you some additional insights and information to help you feel more comfortable with your provider or to know whether you might want to consider an updated evaluation of alternatives.
This should go in your research library along with the Network World summary of voice/video over IP providers (from early 2005), Robin Good's Official Guide To Web Conferencing And Live Presentation Tools (out of date on the big enterprise vendors, but excellent for keeping up with the home/small business providers), and David Woolley's Think Of It Guide To Real-Time Conferencing.
Nice job, TMR!