Last month I wrote a short post about iLinc activity scheduled for February. Now it’s February and I have a little more substance to report. First, the details of their virtual user conference (iConnect) are firmed up. It will be held online on February 23 over the space of five hours. There is a PDF agenda on their web page so you can pick the subjects of interest and plan to log in and out to see the things that matter to you. Doesn’t that make more sense than flying to a city, renting a car, getting a hotel room, and then having to hang around and take the interesting with the uninteresting over the course of a day or two… artificially stuffed with sessions in order to justify the time and inconvenience of traveling? I thought so.
I also had a chance to see a sneak preview of the new iLinc Version 11 interface in a web conference with the iLinc brass. James Powers (President/CEO), Guy Cournoyer (VP of Sales), Ethan Abrams (VP of Product & Technical Operations), and Pat McGraw (Senior Solutions Engineer) all appeared on camera simultaneously, with a matrix of webcam windows that I could move around my screen, docking them in a horizontal or vertical strip or clustering them in a group. At one point I noted a serious reduction in video performance, with blocky pixels and color banding (reduced color palette), but Guy said he was running on settings for low quality, small window performance. He changed his settings and came through in proper clear and non-artifact-laden form. I did not notice a lag or lack of synchronization between the audio and video in the four simultaneous streams.
The main web conferencing console has been organized more simply and consistently, with all commands placed in a command bar at the top of the screen. In certain cases (such as going to screen share or full screen content mode) the command bar auto-hides so that you need to move your cursor up to the top of the screen to show it again. This is not immediately intuitive, but the learning curve is about a half second. Interestingly, iLinc chose to de-emphasize the commands in order to place focus on the content of the conference, whatever it may be. So the command bar and text/icons are all black on grey, which felt a little weird in our highly color-branded society. I think I would get used to it quickly, and I certainly appreciate the focus on content over the delivery mechanism.
My favorite new feature continues to be the addition of explicit real-time captioning. A meeting host can designate a participant (either presenter or attendee status in a webinar situation) to be the real-time closed caption typist. Other attendees can choose to display or hide the caption stream in a thin strip below the main content area. But what is really cool is that you can provision several different captioning streams and let users choose which one they want to see. So in a multilingual event, you could provide the ability for attendees to choose from a French or English or Spanish translation stream. Or thinking more creatively, you could have a stream with trivia facts about the company and product. Or a stream for an engineer to comment on design features and details while a marketing person does a product overview – to satisfy technical audiences while not boring business attendees.
iLinc is one of several conferencing vendors who have supported a proprietary multi-file hosted record/playback format. It allows for a great deal of functionality in the recorded content, but limits the distribution of the recording. They now allow a meeting host to choose whether to use the full featured version that captures all activity during a meeting or to create a more simple single-file Flash recording. The Flash version can be downloaded, distributed, or hosted elsewhere. The Flash version does not capture chat or live display of web media (side note: This is a cool feature that lets a presenter show media such as a YouTube clip without having to upload the media file). I guess I can live with that, but I was disappointed that it also leaves out displayed polls and poll results. It can be hard for a playback viewer to understand what was going on during polls if they can’t see the basic questions and answers. iLinc says they are working on this for an upcoming enhancement. I was encouraged to hear that iLinc has the ability to convert a recording from one format to the other on request, but it’s not a user-accessible utility.
There is some new reporting functionality that will allow hosts to consolidate and analyze poll results after a session, but I did not see that in action. I like the concept and I’m in favor of more vendors jumping on this idea!
I also didn’t look at Salesforce.com – related features, since I am not a CRM guy. iLinc says they will soon be able to export a meeting chat transcript into a Salesforce record, which seems to me as though it would have some specific but limited benefits if you are holding a meeting with a particular client. In larger multi-company meetings, the amount of extraneous information in the chat log would probably be overwhelming and inappropriate for storing with a single contact’s data.
To use a standard old cliché, this is definitely “an evolutionary rather than revolutionary” release. That’s not a bad thing. Reeducating an existing user base is not to be taken lightly, and being able to gradually extend and refine functionality while letting people continue to use the product they have learned is worthwhile.
They hit their pre-announced release date and customer availability will begin on Saturday, February 19. In the world of commercial software, that’s worth a shout out in itself!