Robert Harnischmacher, the managing director at Publicare Marketing Communications, sent me a note letting me know about major updates to their web conferencing evaluation and reviews site – www.webconferencing-test.com (also known as Online Meeting Tools Review).
More features and criteria have been added to the web conferencing testing and review write ups. The site also added a grid showing which web conferencing solutions offer live video capabilities, reflecting a growing interest in video conferencing.
But for me, the most important and impressive addition is the ability to see how products compare on detailed criteria. I have long warned readers to be cautious of comparisons or ranked lists that simply rate one technology product as “better” than another. The priorities of the reviewer almost certainly do not match your own. For instance, you may have budget at the top of your mind, with price playing the major factor in your decision process. Whereas another user may require a specialized capability such as closed captioning or integrated payment processing and is willing to pay a premium for it. Which product is better? The one that matches your requirements.
The updated site adds two versions of user-selectable comparisons. They let you try out the concept with Compare Tools FREE. It lets you choose up to four products and displays a side-by-side quick glance at general category rankings on a five-point scale. These fall under broad terms such as “Functionality”, “Usability”, “Installation”, and “Cost Transparency.” You still need to read the individual reviews to see the details.
More detail is available in Compare Tools PRO. There is a sliding scale for pricing based on how many products you want to compare. Prices are very reasonable… $19 for the first four and $4 per additional product added to the comparison. You select your desired products, pay, and get a download link on screen and in an email. The download is valid for ten days. You also get an invoice sent by email.
The report (referred to as a dossier) is provided in PDF format. I picked four sample products as a test and got a 22-page document. The first 8 pages contain overview and background information about Publicare’s methodology, web conferencing terminology, and general recommendations for thinking about how you plan to use your web conferencing software. The comparisons start on page 9, with the same general overview chart you see in the free version.
The value-add really starts on page 10. Now you get to see the individual features that feed into the high-level rankings. These are listed in a table format with checkmarks indicating whether a feature is present or not in each compared product. Obviously a simple Yes/No checkmark does not tell you the full story, but it gets you started and gives you a good reminder list for the things that are important to you that will need more personal attention and evaluation.
After the tables, you get Publicare’s text review of each selected product. This fills in their observations of key strengths and weaknesses, as well as giving you some indication of pricing. Each review is dated so you can see when it was last modified.
My wish list for future enhancements would include a spreadsheet version of the comparison table. This would make it easy to sort and hide line items to help you prioritize your own ranking chart (they might even include a column where you could input your own weighting units for features. The weights would be multiplied by checkmarks to give you a custom score of which product best meets your priorities).
Obviously, simple checkmark tables can’t and won’t tell you everything you need to know when making a purchase decision. Publicare knows that and says so up front. But you have to start somewhere, and this is a great way to narrow down the wide field of web conferencing offerings into a more manageable short list for your own evaluation. And as I have pointed out in the past, the products in Publicare’s list are graded primarily with an eye towards peer-level collaboration (web meetings) rather than online education or large public presentations (webinars), so you should keep your use case in mind.
Publicare’s Online Meeting Tools Review has come a loooong way since I initially greeted it with cynicism and negativity in its first iteration. I heartily recommend it now as an excellent resource to help users whittle down an overwhelming number of options in the marketplace.