My last post talked about the new WebEx release in the abstract. I have had a chance to use the new features in Event Center very briefly and I thought I would do a follow-up with my initial impressions and experiences.
My first test was to upload my feared "PowerPoint Torture Test" and see if they had fixed a bug I reported in conversion of some filled and rotated objects. Yes, they had! They also passed all my animation tests... Something that very few providers manage. And they properly converted a piece of WordArt that trips up most conversion programs. But I managed to find a remaining bug in display of an animated image, so I can't give WebEx a 100% pass. Still, it's likely to handle almost anything you throw at it on a PowerPoint slide.
Network Based Recording was something I had been waiting for from WebEx for a very long time. Recording integrated audio/video presentations was a horrendous experience in past releases. I gave it a shot and was pleased to see that it worked very well. Recording options were relatively easy to set and audio quality was adequate for web streaming. I was able to hear some dropouts and compression in the recording, which happens whenever a vendor sacrifices quality for speed and file size in their recording files.
The recording is available immediately after your presentation ends. There is no conversion and processing delay. I had a hard time at first finding the recording in my administration console, but I eventually got to the right place.
On playback, the audience can select whether they want to see supplemental panels such as chat, Q&A, and participant names. I was bothered by the fact that there didn't seem to be a way to hide these from viewers... Privacy can be a serious issue in a public event and I don't necessarily want the world to see the names of others who attended and what they typed in. I called tech support, and I was told there was no practical way to avoid this (other than a convoluted multi-machine approach). Then I got a message from the product management team saying that I could enable or disable display of those items from the recording properties controls. This confused me because I had already looked at the recording properties and didn't see any such options.
It turns out that you can see the same recording listed in your files in two separate lists. Each list points to the same file on the network, each offers you the ability to play or download the file. But if you click on "Properties" from one list, you get the full set of options, and if you click on "Properties" from the other list, you only get to see and edit the title and description! Now where's the sense in that?
You can download a recording file to your local PC, but it comes down in a new proprietary format different from WebEx's past two recording formats. The new file extension is .ARF, which is going to lead to plenty of jokes about this being a real dog. To play back the recording offline, you need to download and install another piece of application software from WebEx. The great thing about the offline player is that it also lets you do a one-click conversion of the recording to your choice of Flash or Windows Media 9 (WMV) format. The conversion process is a long process (it plays back the entire recording in real time), but you can schedule it to run at a time of your choosing.
WebEx also changed the behavior of teleconferencing for audience members. I set up an event with both integrated telephone and streaming audio broadcasting. Audience members automatically get the computer audio broadcast started when they join. But it took a while on the phone with a surprised and uncertain tech support guy to find that audience members now have to click a telephone request button on their console to join the telephone conference. By default, the host has to notice a very small icon next to their name and approve the request, at which time the audience member can see the previously hidden telephone join instructions. I stumbled around and managed to find an option to automatically approve telephone join requests, which simplified things a bit. Still, this seems like a lot of extra work for both the audience and the host.
I created a custom survey and displayed it at the end of the event. While you can place a wide variety of fields on the survey (Text, radio buttons, drop-downs, check boxes, etc) and you can throw a small image at the top (such as a company logo), there isn't much opportunity to customize the look of the form. I found the field sizes to be needlessly small and the form looked very blocky and utilitarian.
I ran my test event and completed a survey and then came back as the site administrator and started looking for the results. I was bemused to find no mention in any of the help files about where the survey results appear. I checked through the "My Files" archives and other likely places. Again, my tech support rep seemed undertrained on the new features of this release and he went off to do some tests. We finally decided that the results would appear on the attendance report, but that isn't available for many hours after the event. I have been rechecking my test events and while I can see the column names for the survey questions, I don't see any values entered, so the jury is still out on this one. For now you may be better off creating an external form and guiding your attendees to it through a web URL push. I like the idea of associating the answers with the other attendee info you collect, but it feels like there is work to do in order to make this fully operational and useful.
So for day one, I'd say I'm guardedly happy. Things generally work the way I think they should, but there are areas where some additional design work would pay off. The online help files need a little more updating to address questions about the new features and I'd say the tech support team needs to work with the new features some more. Those are all common complaints about new software releases and every software company I worked for in the past was guilty of the same things from time to time. I expect that some additional time working with the release and some quiet and unpublicized point releases behind the scenes will probably clear them up.