Gary wrote in with a rather long comment on my last post about Adobe’s latest release of Connect Pro. He asked a number of thought provoking questions and I thought I would answer in a new post rather than getting into a comments discussion. Here is Gary’s full comment:
Hello Ken, I've been using Adobe Connect Pro ever since it was called Macromedia Breeze. It's been really interesting watching the platform grow and the option to bridge a teleconference line and VoIP is a big step forward and I can't wait until Adobe builds the functionality to have two way conversations no matter how the user chooses to connect. Something GoTo has been able to accomplish first and in a better way. One of the things I've always thought Adobe/Macromedia needed to improve was the marketing of the platform as being customizable with respect to the pods that can be created. I think the user exchange that was created awhile ago was a good first step, but I'm dumbfounded as to why Adobe hasn't cultivated/highlighted that community, kinda like app stores for smartphones. As far as I know, no other webinar platforms allow for this sort of customization and is a huge selling point that's not being exploited. A few questions: Do you know of other platforms that allow for the creation of truly customized applications to run within the platform and allows for synchronization (or not, depending on the type of interaction needed) between all users? What are your thoughts on a Connect pod store and the implications for Adobe's bottom line if it were to truly get behind the idea? Do you think the potential for widespread use of smartphones (Once Flashplayer 10 drops) will affect how webinars are conducted or will the adoption rate be so slow and user interface too limited to have an impact? Thanks.
Wow. I’d better take things one at a time. Standard disclaimers first… I have no financial or business interests that bias me for or against Adobe or any of its competitors. They do regularly invite me to be a guest speaker on their public webinar series, but I have been a guest speaker for Citrix, ReadyTalk, Arkadin, ON24, and others as well. I don’t resell customer licenses for Adobe’s software or any others. And I have no special insider information about confidential product plans or strategies. That said, I use the software quite a bit and count it as one of the top tier entrants in the web seminar technology space.
I agree that Adobe’s pod and layout customization is a huge product differentiator that the company has never seemed to market or promote heavily. I’m as puzzled as you are, Gary! An experienced meeting host/administrator can completely change the look and functionality of the conferencing console for presenters and attendees, switching back and forth between layouts that serve particular functional or cosmetic needs. That’s very impressive and rare. Because pods are effectively Flash applications in themselves, they can be programmed for dedicated functionality that is sometimes surprising. And customers can upload Flash applications to run inside of generic pods without needing any additional programming.
A number of other vendors are starting to embrace the Flash platform as the underpinning for their products, which will give them an opportunity to enable similar flexibility. omNovia (the capitalization is theirs) is Flash based and recently added the ability to upload customer-provided Flash applications as meeting content. I just started looking at Voxwire, and the first glance cosmetics of the meeting room are almost 100% identical to Connect Pro, with movable and shapeable content pods. As a matter of fact, it’s so close that I wonder about the potential for litigation, but I’m no Intellectual Property lawyer.
Adobe has a head start on applications that are built specifically to run as pods inside their meetings. They offer documentation to developers and have a Software Development Kit for third parties to use in extending functionality. Their online Connect Pro Exchange offers dozens of add-on functions for free download. I’ve used some of these in my own sessions. I know of at least one company making a commercial venture out of selling fancy add-ons for meeting pods (RefinedData Solutions).
Is pod functionality and customization viable as a serious business model? I don’t know about that. Your analogy to app stores for Smartphones doesn’t match in terms of unit sales volumes and usage patterns. Adobe has concentrated heavily on the Enterprise conferencing market. Corporate data managers and IT departments are not too keen about their users loading up lord-knows-what inside collaborative technology solutions that expose synchronous connections inside and outside of the company network. And honestly, most web conferencing users don’t want to concentrate that hard on the framework. They just want to run a meeting and display their content. The less time spent configuring, the better. There will always be some of us conferencing geeks who enjoy tweaking things, but we represent a very small percentage of the web conferencing user base.
Finally, you asked my personal take on the impact of mobile access to web conferences. I’m cynical about the real impact, but that’s not going to stop a huge marketing push touting the functionality. Public wireless data speeds to mobile devices have a long way to go before they match the high speed connectivity that web conferencing vendors rely on for things like simultaneous live video, application sharing, and audio streaming. Business users are still creating awful PowerPoint slides for their presentations that cram text and data into tiny dense blocks that are hard enough to read on a full desktop monitor... Attendees will be even more frustrated when seeing these on 3-inch screens. I predict that mobile access will have an actual usage rate far below the hype and press that it gets over the next couple of years.
And with that, I’ll put the cloth back on my crystal ball. The comments section is open for other viewpoints, arguments, and questions!