Last week ON24 issued a press release announcing a new version of their webcasting platform. The press release concentrated on “Social Webcasting” (their term) as the focus of the release, making you think that integration with social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook is the major feature of interest.
That integration certainly is present, with the ability to display a Twitter feed inside an event and let people post without changing windows. But after seeing a demo of the beta version, I have to tell you that the social media integration is small potatoes compared to the quantum leap in user configurability and control that ON24 is about to provide.
Mark Szelenyi (Director of Product Marketing for ON24) took me through the beta on its first day of availability, showing off the operation of the features. I was blown away. For the first time, each attendee of a webcast can completely control the display to suit himself or herself. Want to move the window showing PowerPoint slides over to the left of the screen? Just drag and drop it. Want to hide the live video feed of the presenter? Just close that window. Want to see the Twitter feed associated with the event’s hashtag and add your own tweets? Resize that window, move it around, let it overlay part of another window, then shrink it out of the way again.
The entire browser window becomes your sandbox as an event attendee. You can play to your heart’s content without affecting other users. There is no fixed console at all… just the wide open expanse of the browser page, showing whatever content windows the organizers have elected to make available, with a row of icons across the bottom of the page to let you access each function.
I have seen web conferencing/webcast systems that let an administrator configure the viewing display for the attendees, but this is the first time I have seen the users in control of their own viewing experience to such an extent. Of course administrators can elect to fix things in place if they want a bit more structure to their event environment. Each content window has flags to choose whether it is movable, resizable, shrinkable, and so on. Companies will also be able to add their own custom links and functionality by adding widgets to the console.
Everything runs in Flash, which makes it cross-compatible with a variety of browsers and operating systems (but keeps it off the iPad for the time being). Companies should be able to add Flash video clips and Flash applications such as games within their webcast.
The new product is scheduled to complete customer beta testing by the end of May, at which time ON24 will start using it to run full-service turnkey events for their clients. By July they plan to make it available to self-service clients who produce their own events. The new platform will coexist with the existing – more static – display choices that rely on Windows Media, Real Player, or Flash. Customers choosing the new option will pay a premium for the advanced features.
ON24 is also at work publishing and documenting a public API so third-party developers can add their own functionality as widgets for the webcast console. One application that immediately occurred to me would be a way for companies to add a live transcription box to a webcast to support the hearing-impaired. Users could choose whether to display the live subtitles or not. I hasten to add that this is not an out-of-the-box capability provided by ON24. It’s just my own example of how an open platform could be put to use once people start working with the interface.
Mark said there will also be new reports available to summarize audience usage of the various components in a webcast. The new delivery system will tie in with ON24’s existing registration, audience management, and lead scoring systems when running a scheduled event.
I think this is a fantastic advance in making webcasts more attractive, useful, and engaging for attendees. I can’t wait to attend one of their first production events when the system goes live!