ON24 just announced a new release (4.1) of their Webcast Center product. One of the highlighted new capabilities is the use of Adobe Flash to enable support for animations, video, and cross-platform compatibility. That’s all good stuff.
Several web conferencing / webcasting product vendors have made a commitment to running as a Flash application. This can provide a tremendous amount of flexibility and ease of access for event presenters and attendees. Off the top of my head, I can think of Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro, Persony, HighRoad Solution VMX, Great America Networks Conferencing, and omNovia as some other companies that have chosen to work with Flash.
Getting into a Flash-based meeting room is usually quick and easy, requiring no software download or installation. But of course there is a software application running on the user’s computer… Flash Player from Adobe. If a person doesn’t already have the Flash player installed, they must download and install it before the meeting.
Most every vendor using Flash repeats the standard Adobe quote about Flash pervasiveness: “Adobe Flash Player is the world’s most pervasive software platform, used by over 2 million professionals and reaching 99.0% of Internet-enabled desktops in mature markets as well as a wide range of devices.”
That is based on a study conducted in September 2008 by Millward Brown and commissioned by Adobe.
Adobe is commendably open about publishing the methodology and details of the study. 1,000 people were surveyed in the US, and 400 people were surveyed in each of 9 other countries. But one sentence stood out when I looked at the methodology notes: “The majority of respondents answer from their home computer; however, responses from respondents answering using a work computer are not excluded.”
That is of interest to me because in conducting business to business webinars for clients on some of these Flash-based technologies, I have repeatedly dealt with access problems for people whose computers were institutionally barred from running or loading the Flash Player. If the organization won’t allow Flash, the employees cannot participate in the meeting. End of story – No workaround.
Now the access problems are admittedly few and far between. I usually deal with only one or two such problems per event. But if the people with the problems are high profile or “squeaky wheels,” it can create a serious negative perception of the event’s technical acceptability in the client’s mind.
I recognize that you can’t build any software technology that works 100% of the time for 100% of potential users around the world. That’s crazy. And I recognize that writing conferencing software as Java applets or locally-installed C++ programs can produce similar problems (or worse!).
But perhaps vendors could look for the opportunity to provide a fallback access methodology for people who are blocked from seeing the Flash console. Maybe a dumbed-down version of the viewer that doesn’t show animations or video. It would be important to note clearly and explicitly that the fallback is a second-choice alternative to the preferred access method and state which features and functionality are not supported.
Microsoft used the fallback trick in their latest release of Live Meeting. Users unable or unwilling to load the locally-installed client software can access events from a web browser interface. But I think Microsoft erred in making the web interface seem like a fully equivalent access choice (and indeed, it is the only access method for some operating systems). That sets up unreasonable expectations and leads to disappointment when things don’t work for some/many attendees and the hosts are not even aware of the problems.
So here’s a request for you webinar vendors working in the Flash domain. Good for you. Go crazy. It’s a great base technology and I’m all in favor of exploiting it. But give me an alternative for the people who can’t access Flash from work. Thank you!