I have been fascinated by AnyMeeting ever since it began as "Freebinar" in 2010. It hasn't taken long to go from a small startup offering ad-supported free web conferencing to a legitimate player in the small-to-medium business (SMB) conferencing space.
Today the company put out a press release announcing a few new convenience options for users. The first improvement was provisioning for US toll-free teleconference numbers, priced at $0.06 per person/minute. Hosts can also offer local dial-in numbers from more than 40 countries. I spoke to AnyMeeting's David Gerken and Costin Tuculescu (COO and CEO, respectively) about the announcement.
My first question was whether the list of countries includes the Latin America market. This has been a tricky area for phone conference providers. Industry insiders have told me that phone fraud is rampant in many Central and South American countries, so providers are often leery about offering local numbers for meeting attendees "south of the border." AnyMeeting currently has access numbers in seven Latin American countries (including Mexico, which is part of North America but often faces the same anti-access bias). Scanning the list, I see good representation in Europe, but some big gaps in major population and technology centers elsewhere. Countries conspicuous in their absence include Turkey, India, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Russia.
I next asked about teleconference features. The usual controls are available to mute all attendees, mute and unmute individuals, enable and disable entry/exit tones, etc. But there is no provision for separating presenters into a subconference or "green room" to chat in private while attendees hear music or silence. I tend to use this feature frequently when supporting larger meetings and formal webinars. David and Costin said that AnyMeeting will be adding additional capabilities in the future to better support formal webinars, so I am hoping this will be on their list.
On the web conferencing side of things, the big change in operation is "meeting start modes." AnyMeeting decided not to go the route taken by vendors such as Cisco WebEx or Citrix, offering different products for different conferencing needs. Instead, there is only one product version and hosts can enable and disable options during the scheduling or conference startup process.
To make things more quick and convenient, hosts can now choose a meeting type (video conference, phone conference, web meeting, webinar) and the product will be configured with the most appropriate options set for that use case. So a phone conference contains no superfluous web meeting link in the invitation email. Webinars start with attendees in listen-only mode. For video conferences, meeting attendees join the meeting with webcams turned on.
Whoa… That last sentence tripped me up when I read it in the press release. I challenged Costin and David in an incredulous voice: "You can't be serious!?! Turning on participant webcams by default? That's an invitation to disaster!"
It turns out that it's a matter of semantics. A video conference starts up with your webcam selected for use and showing you your preview image. But you still take a conscious action to enable the image for broadcast in the meeting. This just relieves the user of the responsibility of selecting to use video and selecting the connected device from a menu. Okay, I'm cool with that.
It's nice to see continued innovation and developments from conferencing vendors. I look forward to reading additional announcements as AnyMeeting continues its growth path.