Michelle Murrain wrote a post in her "Zen and the Art of Nonprofit Technology" blog last week in which she summarized her "search for good web conferencing." She had set several specific criteria and some fuzzy desires in selecting a web conferencing product to support free and fee-based webinars. The biggest technical challenge was sharing her Linux and Mac desktop with the audience. The biggest business challenge was that she wanted it to be inexpensive (although that is a relative term).
Michelle evaluated six products and came up with this conclusion: "Every one of them comes up short in one way or another."
That is a sad statement, but Michelle doesn't know the half of it. There are dozens more products on the market that she hasn't tried, but I have. And you know what? Every one of them comes up short in one way or another.
Admittedly, I have outrageously high expectations when it comes to software for webinars (I am distinguishing this from software designed to support collaborative small group conferences). I have had a chance to see great single-feature implementations from different vendors. But for every product that has something done really well, there is another area where you have to accept a tradeoff.
It's not fair to speak only in generalizations, so here are just a few examples taken from some of the more well known names in the business.
WebEx - Might as well start with the biggest name. My favorite thing about WebEx is its integrated tracking features. Parameters in the registration URL are transferred into your registration and attendance reports so you can set up source tracking to gauge the effectiveness of different promotion channels. WebEx also does pretty well on integrating their phone and VoIP audio streams. And they have a good slide annotation system. But there are a vast number of tradeoffs. PowerPoint uploads have bugs in the conversion process. Tracking doesn't work with lists of events under a named program. VoIP audio isn't supported on several Linux flavors. And recordings are in a proprietary format.
Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional - I like almost everything about the implementation of this Flash-based system. It has great cross-platform flexibility, is amazingly configurable in layout, and the slide upload and conversion process is unparalleled in the industry. All slide animations work and slides remain loaded and available for a repeat session. But VoIP audio is notoriously scratchy and recordings can only be viewed online... There is no option to download them for distribution on CD. I also want audience members to be able to show feedback indicators without seeing all other attendee names.
Raindance - Does anybody even remember that Raindance exists? They have the best tech support team I have worked with and a question handling implementation that is unique and spectacular. You can flag questions, assign them to a panelist, or choose to ignore them. Great for moderated Q&A sessions! I also love that it shows you how many animations remain to be executed on a slide. But the presenter interface is confusing and multiple access modes make it tricky to train panelists. I have also had issues with multiple audience logins to a single event.
Citrix GoToWebinar - The undisputed champ at desktop sharing. If I'm showing a live demo, this is my "go to" product (pun intended, but not very funny or original). You also can't beat its pricing and the registration/event setup is the most intuitive and fun to use of any vendor. Tradeoffs are a lack of flexibility. There is no provision for VoIP audio, cross-platform support is extremely limited, and question logs require manual reformatting to be useful.
I don't mean this to be a comprehensive list... I just wanted to give you a taste of the kinds of strengths and weaknesses that every product carries (whether I mentioned it here or not).
So if you are looking for "good" webinar software, you might just have to settle for "good enough." It's a question of your own requirements and priorities. Sigh. I may not have the engineering staff, the technical expertise, or the interest in developing a webinar product myself, but I sure have the makings of a heck of a Marketing Requirements Document!
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