It's time for another look at terminology in our field. I do this every so often in a futile attempt to track the latest usage patterns among vendors and users of web conferencing technology.
I'm going to skip over the lessened, but still existent hatred for the coined term "webinar" among certain language purists. That boat has sailed. Webinar is firmly established in common usage, like it or not. My primary question is whether there is any remaining difference in usage between "webcast" and "webinar" from a technology perspective. I don't really think so, although there should be.
I would love to see "webcast" go back to its more pure roots as an analog of the terms "broadcast," "telecast," or even "podcast." The primary goals of all these "casts" is to stream content out to a wide remote audience. The information flow is one-way and the chief defining characteristics are ease of access, large audience capacity, and smooth, uninterrupted data flow. So if you watch a sporting event streamed through your browser, you are watching a webcast. If you watch the annual Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on the internet, you are watching a webcast.
Anything with more audience interactivity is probably better termed a webinar. Important characteristics become the ability for attendees to interact and provide input through chat messages, polls, surveys, quizzes, shared control, voice response, and so on. While not identical to the classic educational "seminar," the concept of allowing discussion and two-way interaction between leader and learners is a useful touchstone, updated for the more modern web-based environment.
By the way, I also see the interaction dynamic as the differentiator between webinars and web meetings (or web conferences if you prefer). In a webinar, interactions are always controlled by and through a leader. Although there may be an open chat box allowing participants to see each others' comments, the leader retains control of the session. In a web meeting, participation is more freeform and peer-based, with everyone allowed to contribute and interact with each other directly.
I just ran a comparison on Google Trends for the search terms "webinar" and "webcast." The results are striking. The webinar line is in blue, webcast is in red:
Change the search term to plural ("webinars" and "webcasts") and it's even more dramatic:
As far as I can see from a technology marketing perspective, the vendors don't really care about making a distinction one way or another, just as long as you buy their stuff. ON24 still calls their main product "Webcast Elite," but for the past couple of years, most of their press releases and marketing blurbs (including the corporate "About ON24" boilerplate) have referenced webinars rather than webcasts. A few years ago Adobe created a special Adobe Connect Webcast product specifically for very large audiences with less interactivity, but I can't even tell if it is offered anymore. It certainly takes a back seat on the company website to mentions of webinars as the driving use case. Given all that, it may be time to relinquish the use of "webcast" back to the streaming content providers and web videographers, keeping "webinar" as the identifier for presentations that invite audience feedback and interaction.
What do you think?