I don't suppose I'll ever run out of material concerning implementation differences between web conferencing products. One of my more popular articles on the blog has been "How To Grill A Web Conferencing Vendor" in which I advise caution in looking at RFP responses and other summary lists of features from vendors. Just because a vendor puts a check mark next to "Audience Q&A" doesn't mean it's going to work the way you want it to in practice.
Understanding the details of how a web conferencing feature is implemented and how the design decisions will affect you is almost impossible from a written description. That is why I always advise test driving a product in a real conference setting with a presenter or two and an audience member before making a purchase decision. Vendors that don't allow a free trial period are doing a serious disservice to their potential customers and should join this common industry trend.
I have socked it to market leaders like WebEx and Live Meeting in the past for some strange operational aspects. Today it's Citrix's turn with their GoToMeeting/GoToWebinar product. I'll start out by saying that Citrix is my go-to choice (pun intended) for running live demos and anything else that requires you to show your desktop to attendees. If there is any other product that runs screen sharing more smoothly, I haven't seen it.
But today I ran up against one of those strange design choices that made me shake my head in wonder. GoToWebinar lets you accept typed-in audience comments in two ways. You can have them use a Chat window or a Question & Answer window. Excellent... That satisfies the check mark on the features list when comparing product functionality. Both of the features work just fine. Except that I took my practical use scenario one step farther.
Citrix has enabled Chat as a general audience communication tool. If you enable it for your audience, they can chat to the entire crowd... You can't restrict them to sending messages to presenters/hosts only. Okay, that's fair. Probably something you would use more for collaborative work groups than for large one-to-many presentations. I don't want my webinar audience distracting each other with the kind of chatter you find in open forums and chat rooms. Q&A works the other way... You can restrict the audience to sending in their questions so that only the event organizer/host can see them. The host can then read them off or "assign" each question to a named presenter. Very nice.
But when it comes time to end your meeting and prepare for your post-event actions, you can only save your Chat log! There is no facility to save questions that have come in through the Q&A window. No problem, I thought... I'll just copy the list of questions out of my organizer's Q&A window. No good... You can't select and copy the questions. So if I want a record of every question that was submitted during an event, I have to type them into a document manually, one by one. Not very friendly for a large event (GoToWebinar supports audience sizes up to 1000) where it is important to follow through on potentially many questions.
I called Citrix tech support and asked if I was missing something. Nope. That's just the way it works. You can't call this a bug, it's just a design decision that doesn't fit with my particular needs for this particular event series. Now I know about it up front and I can make decisions based on that knowledge. But there is no way I would know about it from looking at features lists or product documentation or a typical RFP response.
I used Citrix as an example here because I happened to be using their software for a client event and it was fresh in my mind. I should point out that the tradeoff in this case was a client who saw the screen sharing and exclaimed, "This is incredible! It's SO much better than what we were using!" But EVERY web conferencing vendor has similar design choices and tradeoffs sprinkled through their products. Something will come up and bite you when you least expect it. Make sure to think through your entire product use from setup to post-event follow up and make sure that your product satisfies your particular needs. I've spotted hidden design limitations in various products in areas such as event recording, audio delivery, slide conversions, question management, and lead tracking. If it's important to you, test it out. And never assume that something will work in the way you think is obvious.
UPDATE (July 26, 1:30 EDT): My face is red. GoToWebinar does indeed have a way to see all questions and answers from the event. It's not in the online dashboard console, but in the Attendee Report you can generate from your organizer Web interface afterwards. Each attendee has a text block with all questions and answers from/to that person. Unfortunately all dialog entries are run together into a long continuous stream for each person, so you have to do manual editing and reformatting, but all the vital information is in there. That just goes to show that sometimes there are hidden capabilities as well as hidden limitations! My apologies to Citrix (and a slap on the wrist to the tech support person who didn't tell me about it).