Ah, the fall season. Kids back in school, workers back from summer vacations, and businesses cranking up their promotional work to bring in that all-important end-of-year revenue before the holidays. It's true for users of web conferencing (Labor Day to Thanksgiving is my busiest time of year) and it's true for vendors of web conferencing.
Yesterday we saw a new competitive program launched by ON24. Today we have announcements from ReadyTalk and Adobe.
ReadyTalk published a press release announcing ReadyTalk Webcast and ReadyTalk Webinar Professional Services. The announcement makes it look like the webcast product is just the previously existing (and still available) webinar product with the addition of streaming video. But I asked ReadyTalk director of marketing Bo Bandy for details and found out that Webcast supports PowerPoint animations, localization for 17 languages, and audience sizes up to 10,000 or more (compared to 3,500 for webinars).
ReadyTalk Webcast can be licensed for self-service ongoing use or as a managed service for full production of a one-time web event. In the self-service options, I noted with surprise that ReadyTalk created a lower-cost plan that limits webcasts to two speakers per event. That is the first time I have seen such a limitation, and I am not sure how they enforce it.
ReadyTalk's professional services offering is designed to put me out of business (grin), providing help with scheduling, customization, moderating, and technical support.
Meanwhile, the Adobe Connect team has been keeping busy with improvements to their core web conferencing product. A blog post today introduced Adobe Connect 9.5, highlighting improved access to and convenience for HTML5 content and MP4 webinar recordings. As a "point release" this is not intended to introduce major new functionality, and is more likely to be understood by and important to existing customers than new prospects.
A full four years ago I wrote about Adobe's strategic move towards HTML5 on mobile devices, with a shift away from Flash as a core technology seemingly inevitable. HTML5 adoption has been slower than expected, as many end users have been surprisingly content to hold onto old versions of operating systems and web browsers. People are not upgrading to HTML5 browsers in a large enough majority to make the new technology self-sufficient as a universal delivery platform yet.
Adobe Connect 9.5 cautiously advances the HTML5 story by allowing HTML5 content produced in Adobe Captivate and Adobe Presenter to be played in an Adobe Connect virtual classroom. That designation is important… You must be using the virtual classroom version of the product and users must download and install an add-in in order to see the newer content.
Using Virtual Classroom as a test bed to track adoption makes sense. Instructional content designers are often more interested in incorporating fancier interactive components than other end users of web conferencing, so they can appreciate the advantages and be willing to put up with tradeoffs or extra steps in accessibility.
I spoke with Peter Ryce, my long term contact as an Adobe Connect product evangelist, and he showed me examples of new third-party "custom pods" that use HTML5. This is a nice enhancement for mobile users, as many of the older Flash-based third-party extensions ended up showing as "unsupported content" on mobile devices that didn't support the Flash Player.
Adobe Connect had previously allowed customers to convert webinar recordings from the proprietary Adobe interactive format to a "view-only" standard MP4 video file. But you had to request the conversion as a paid service from Adobe. The new 9.5 release allows users to locally convert recordings to MP4 for free as a self-service option. Thank goodness! Interestingly, you can tweak video options in order to balance file size vs. quality, but there are no corresponding adjustments for audio. It seems like a strange oversight.
Additional enhancements include better integration between Connect and Adobe Experience Manager, improvements to streaming video performance, and some cosmetic and reporting updates.