I recently took Yugma COO Karel Lukas up on his offer to have a serious discussion about the product and the company. We spent quite a while talking about the current features of Yugma's web conferencing software, their vision for the future, and the company philosophy.
Yugma has been the company name from inception, but up until a month ago, they distributed their web conferencing software under the product name of LetsPowWow. They decided to start the new year with a new branding for their product and relabeled the software to take the same name as the company. So now Yugma sells Yugma.
Karel tells me that the company spent time analyzing how to meet the demands of the largest possible market for web conferencing software. They decided that the masses were calling for several features: They wanted something that was easy to learn and use, with a very simple interface. It had to work on a variety of computer platforms. And it had to be inexpensive. Yugma built a product dedicated to fulfilling those goals.
Karel says that while real-time group collaboration is the "sweet spot" for Yugma, it has also been successfully used for 1-to-many presentations with up to 50 people in the audience. Still, the product at this time doesn't support formal structured webinar features such as audience registration, password control, polling, and reporting, so I am more comfortable classifying it as a collaborative group conferencing product at the moment.
When you fire up Yugma, a Java applet loads in your browser. The product has been tested for proper operation on the popular Windows and Macintosh operating systems and common browsers on both types of machines. Linux is currently being tested for specific configurations. Your control panel appears in a simplified browser window running down the right side of your screen. You can move and shrink the control panel, but you can't resize its window. At the top of your control panel, you see a session ID number and a dial-in number for use during the conference. Although it is not a toll-free number, the conferencing is provided free of charge as part of the package, which is awfully convenient. No additional contracts or setup! The audio conferencing is provided through a partnership with FreeConference.com. At this time, Yugma does not support any internet audio capabilities.
As a presenter, your default action is simply to show your entire desktop to your audience. Options let you promote another audience member to presenter status so they show their desktop, or to cede control of your mouse and keyboard to an audience member so they can drive your computer. Yugma built in a priority override, so that any mouse movement by the host locks out the remote user from control for about three or four seconds. Therefore you can react to someone attempting to open or modify something they shouldn't simply by wiggling your mouse (and then shutting off the remote control option!).
There is a type-in chat window in the control panel that lets you initiate a private conversation with an audience member or lets people type in a public forum. Again, the product does not support large-scale webinar features such as role-based permissions that would let audience members send chats to all presenters or would let presenters answer a chat question with a private response (other than opening another chat window with that person).
A very simple interface lets you send an email invitation to one or more prospective audience members. It fills in your session id and a direct URL link to the session. You fill in email addresses and any other text you want to use.
Annotation tools let you place the usual assortment of lines, circles, rectangles, and highlighter overlays on your screen. You can adjust line widths and color very easily. You do not have the ability to add a text box. I found the annotation tools to be very easy to use and I liked the fact that you can slap them on top of anything you are displaying. Many other products only allow annotations on a special blank page whiteboard or on top of imported slides. I found a couple of small inconveniences in the drawing interface, such as hidden confirmation windows making the product feel like it had stopped working. Karel tells me that they have short-term plans for an upgrade release that will significantly improve the annotation and whiteboarding facilities.
We tested the smoothness and speed of desktop sharing with my worst-case "torture test" PowerPoint slide show. This uses a lot of detailed graphics, fancy slide transitions, and animated movement on the screen. I could see jumps in the polling and transmission of the screen images so that movements appeared as jerky discontinuities rather than smooth motions on the audience side. That is a common symptom for web conferencing products when attempting to broadcast full-screen graphics with lots of continuous redraws. My file gives the software a rather severe stress test. In more common usage, I was quite satisfied with the software's ability to rapidly display a drop-down menu or follow the presenter's cursor movement across the screen.
Karel is very proud of Yugma's "disruptive pricing" for the web conferencing services they offer. You can get the complete price chart directly from the company's website. The easiest way to try it out is with Yugma Free. As the name suggests, there is no charge for the web or audio portion of the conference and you can have as many sessions as you want, with each session lasting as long as you want. A session can have a maximum of 10 attendees. In the free version, you see a banner advertisement at the bottom of the control panel (currently just Yugma promotional banners, but the company plans to sell this space as a revenue generator).
Upgrading to Yugma Premium adds on features for remote computer control, scheduling sessions, recording a session, and storing files on the Yugma server for attendee download. Pricing is based on the maximum number of audience members you want to allow in a session. 10-member rooms are available for $9.95 a month, while a 50-person room is $99.95. That's ridiculously cheap, with additional discounts available if you prepay for 12 months of service.
Karel was very open with some other details about the software and the company and I thought I would share a few of them with you as points of interest. In order to get a new software product out the door quickly, the company decided to use offshore programming supported by a core local team. They based the software on an open source base and went with a Java approach to maximize cross-platform compatibility. Product planning right now includes the addition of larger session capacity, a pay per use pricing model, VOIP (internet audio), presenter video, and audience polling.
The company sees a great opportunity for inexpensive web collaboration in concert with Web 2.0 community collaboration. In much the way that WebEx has teamed up with AOL Instant Messenger, Yugma could tie in with internet community sites like LinkedIn, MySpace, FaceBook, and so on. (DISCLAIMER: Those company names are my own representative examples and have no real or implied business relationship with Yugma that I know of.) I think this is a great path to follow and it could really open up the use and acceptance of web conferencing by the masses.
Karel shared some other long-term plans that were confidential, but gave me a good feeling about the company's prospects and chances for success. I like the way they are thinking and I think you'll be seeing some interesting announcements from them over the remainder of this year and on into the longer future. If you want to try out a very easy to use piece of software for web conferencing without breaking your budget, give Yugma a try.
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