If you record your web conferences in Citrix GoToWebinar, you need to know about a possibility for unrecoverable loss of your content. Admittedly, it’s a low order of probability or else everybody would be screaming about it. Yet it happened to me on a client webinar last week. We lost an entire session recording, and the thing that truly frustrates me as a former programmer is that it could have been avoided through better programming design decisions.
To explain the scenario and how it could happen to you too, I need to give a bit of background so you understand the recording process.
When you record a webinar session in GoToWebinar, you make a settings choice before the recording starts. You can either save the recording file in Citrix’s proprietary format that requires their video codec for playback, or you tell it to convert the recording file to the more standard WMV format. Citrix’s format is more efficient, but if you plan to make the recording generally available to the public, the standard format is more useful. I chose to enable the conversion to WMV.
As soon as your webinar ends, Citrix closes the recording file and saves it to your local disk in a default directory or an alternate of your choosing. If you keep it in GoToWebinar format, you are done. BUT if you had chosen to convert to WMV format, the conversion process immediately starts. There is no confirmation dialog and no opportunity to delay the conversion till later. That is significant because the conversion process is extremely resource intensive and can take a very long time… As long as (or longer than) the original session duration.
Now here’s the kicker. Any experienced programmer knows that before starting a serious modification to a source file, you copy the source and keep it safe in case you need to roll back to it. But I guess that in the interest of preserving disk space, the Citrix engineers decided to directly modify the source file. Perhaps it copies it internally to a temp file during the process, but when the conversion completes, you have one and only one file… The conversion output. There isn’t even a temp or source file in your recycle bin. It simply gets replaced by the new version.
You know what’s coming next, don’t you? When the conversion started after our webinar, I went off to dinner and let it chug away for more than an hour. I came back to find the conversion progress bar at 100% and “Done” in the conversion dialog box. But my computer was frozen deader than a doornail. I couldn’t even CTRL-ALT-DEL to bring up the Task Manager. I had to do a hardware shutdown and reboot. When I rebooted, I found that I had a nice big 68MB WMV file in my directory, but it wouldn’t play. It had no audio or video properties associated with it. It would not load in any media player (including Citrix’s officially approved converter… Microsoft Expression Encoder 4). The Citrix Technical Support people were nice, and sincere in their desire to help, but eventually they could say nothing other than “Looks like your file is corrupted. Sorry about that.”
I eventually corresponded with an individual in Citrix Global Customer Support who confirmed that “there does appear to be an issue with auto converting large recordings to regular WMV files.” I say that even if there wasn’t a known issue, the practice of overwriting the source file instead of copying it is too risky. Computers crash, earthquakes occur, power goes out. If any of those things happens in the middle of your long conversion process, you could be completely out of luck, with no archive of your event and no recourse for recovery.
I was told that Citrix plans to completely overhaul the recording feature in GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar this year, offering greater convenience and reliability. Until then, my contact recommended avoiding use of the automatic conversion option to WMV if you want to ensure the survivability of your recording.
Unfortunately, you sacrifice convenience for safety. Converting a GoToWebinar recording to WMV on your own means downloading and installing Microsoft Expression Encoder 4 on your PC. That software relies on recent versions of .NET Framework, Silverlight, and DirectX, so there may be additional downloads and installs necessary on your computer. Once the product is installed, you can open your GoToWebinar recording file in the Encoder and convert it to an alternate format, properly retaining the source file in the process.
I hope the upgraded recording functionality comes along sooner rather than later. This experience was a nasty surprise for me and for my client. I have successfully auto-converted plenty of GoToWebinar recordings in the past, but losing even one session is one too many.