Question from Gregg: “Your forum board looks a little scary, not having frequent posts. What are your favorite webinar technologies, i.e. GoToWebinar, ON24, etc.?”
First things first… I know the Web Conferencing Community Forum hasn’t had a lot of action lately. That is one of the reasons I’m encouraging people to write in their questions on it. I’m hoping I can stimulate more frequent usage, which will benefit everyone. I also fixed a problem that hid my “Ask Ken” topic from non-registered guests. Please don’t be afraid to register on the forum so you can add your question. Registration is there purely to keep auto-spammers from filling up the boards. I don’t collect registered names for marketing purposes, I don’t send mailings, and no vendors get them. By the way, there is a hard to see link at the bottom of the home page. In very small text, you can click on “View the 10 most recent posts” to see the latest additions from others. A very useful feature for following the latest threads!
Now on to your main query. This is probably the question I hear the most from clients, public webinar attendees, and strangers at parties. And nobody likes my answer. There is NO single web conferencing/webinar technology that gets everything right in my opinion. They each have strengths and weaknesses. And I’ll often recommend a technology for one client based on their needs and a different technology for other clients.
I’m not trying to evade the issue, and I won’t shirk from an answer. But as soon as I write something here, I can expect to get inundated with emails and comments from vendors and supporters/detractors of the various products. So people, here’s the deal… Just because I don’t mention a particular technology does NOT mean it is bad. Just because I mention a particular positive or negative point does NOT constitute a complete product review. I have a limited space here to cover a huge and complex topic. Oh, and I am consciously avoiding a discussion of products more targeted at collaborative small group meetings. So you won’t see any mention of DimDim, Yuuguu, Glance, GoToMeeting, and other products targeted more at participatory meetings. Ready? Here we go.
Among the biggest names (by market share and advertising spend) here are my most commonly-used products, along with a few brief pointers on each:
1) WebEx. I use this when the priority is for easy integration of streaming audio and international telephone access. They have out-of-the-box toll-free access from dozens of countries around the world. No external integration necessary. Their registration management includes the ability to add source tracking, so you can see what marketing channel caused people to sign up. Their PowerPoint conversion is among the top five in fidelity to the original deck. Negatives start with high cost and also include an inability to retain uploaded slide presentations between sessions. You have to log in early and upload your slides as part of your event-day activities.
2) GoToWebinar. I use this when the priority is on live demos or other screen-sharing activities. Citrix still has the best performance in the industry for showing your desktop. It is also a great choice when you need the ability to host large audiences at a small price (up to 1000 people for $99 is a huge competitive advantage). Negatives include limited flexibility on registrant communications, no ability to upload/cache slides, and low-fidelity recordings. I have also experienced recording and display problems when switching between presenters in a webinar. And their report log format for meeting chat requires manual work to separate things.
3) Adobe Connect Pro. I use this when the priority is on flexibility of the display console, types of content shown, and multi-platform access. As a Flash application, the software truly doesn’t care what operating system or browser presenters and attendees use. Unfortunately, if a person’s computer is blocked from using or loading the Adobe Flash Player, they are out of luck and there is no work around. You can load slides ahead of time and keep them around between sessions. You can shape the various windows of the console in a million configurations and switch between different layouts for different purposes in the meeting. Conversion of uploaded slides and animations is excellent. Easy display of Flash content, including games, quizzes, and interactive components. Very good question management and flexibility in presenter/audience chat. Negatives include a steep learning curve to understand all the functionality, numerous bugs or feature anomalies that require knowing how to work around them for a smooth experience. Streaming audio often shows performance problems. Product support is only starting to come up to an acceptable level. And there is no included registration management functionality – It is an extra cost option (and not well implemented).
4) iLinc is on my next tier. iLinc has great setup and administrative flexibility and can add multi-windowed speaker video. They recently improved the conversion fidelity of uploaded PowerPoint slides, but they still can’t handle animations, which means you have to restrict the type of content you can show.
I’m keeping the above separate from recommendations for webcasting to very large audiences with an emphasis on streaming audio and live streaming video of the presenter. Almost all products with this focus eliminate PowerPoint slide animations and have more limited question management and polling options. They also usually have optional bundled services to handle technical production, with sets, cameras, sound setup, etc. The names I am most familiar with include ON24, Stream57, Streamlogics, Vcall, Talkpoint, and WebcastGroup. To be honest, I don’t get involved with these products as much as the webinar-focused ones because the vendors supply more of their own services.
In the special case of simulcasting an in-room event to a remote audience, I have been impressed by Sonic Foundry and Netbriefings. They supply equipment, personnel, and services with their technology.
If your focus is online training, I typically turn to Adobe Connect Pro, Elluminate, iLinc, or Saba Centra. Each has product versions and features tailored for training and educational applications. WebEx does as well, but honestly I can’t justify the price jump based on any product differentiators.
The above notes only skim the surface. Each of the mentioned vendors has many more feature specifics than I mentioned. There are also many other vendors (take a look at my Webinar Success Vendor Links page) and you can see another online comparison at Publicare’s site. That site is more focused on collaborative meeting software.