I have been remiss in covering a press release issued by LogMeIn earlier this month. GoToWebinar has been upgraded with new functionality and new cosmetics. I was looking over the release notes on the GoToWebinar Community Forum and saw that there have been some additional enhancements just recently. It's high time I did a little digging to see what the product team has been up to since the acquisition by LogMeIn!
First we have the cosmetic changes. To be brutally honest, it's no big deal to my eyes. GoToWebinar now joins the trend in "modern, flat design" aesthetics. But there are no substantive changes… Just squaring off some corners and simplifying icons. Here's a side-by-side showing the old version of the GoToWebinar control panel on the left and the new version on the right:
The desktop app now has a reduced file size, leading to faster download and installation for desktop participants. If you elect to offer toll-free telephone dial in for participants, the toll-free number is now more prominent and easier to spot when you connect to a session.
The press release concentrated on two major functional capabilities: Video clip sharing and Simulate Live webinars. I checked right before writing this article, and both features are available but listed as "Beta" features. Take that word seriously… Capabilities are being tested in operation and are being updated faster than the online documentation can keep up with!
The ability to play prerecorded video clips has been requested for many years. GoToWebinar finally made it happen, but with important caveats. As I mentioned, the feature is still being finalized and anything I write about it is subject to further changes that could make my observations obsolete. But here are my findings as of June 20:
- The webinar administrator must identify any video clips to be used in the session during webinar setup. Once the webinar has started, you may not elect to show an unplanned video "on the fly." A webinar can have a maximum of five clips queued up for use.
- You can upload a video file from your computer or enter the URL of a publicly available YouTube video. Disk-based files must be in MP4 format. YouTube is the only online hosting location that can be played.
- Video clip audio plays ONLY through participant computer speakers. So if participants are listening by telephone, you'll have to tell them to turn on their speakers while the clip is playing.
- Presenter microphones are still active while video clips play, so presenters can talk over a video. That is useful, but it means that presenters on telephone must remember to mute their speakers or their telephone so the system doesn't pick up a feedback loop, playing back the video's audio track over the presenter telephones.
- The presenter in control of screen sharing chooses to "share" a video clip in place of his or her screen. So there is a noticeable transition in going from one type of content to the other. Once the presenter shares the clip, nothing happens until the presenter clicks the "play video" triangle icon in the video window. The presenter may arbitrarily choose to pause the video and continue playback. When the video ends, the presenter must manually share the screen again. I found the interface sequences a bit frustrating, as I had to do a lot of mouse movements and clicks, requiring serious concentration on the process. It could be difficult to maintain a smooth conversational narrative during the transition actions.
- When the presenter switches from screen sharing to video sharing, the display area can change significantly for attendees. I tried it while sharing my webcam and found that my attendee display went from having the webcam at a small size next to a large screen share to showing the webcam window much larger and overlaying the new video window. The change in view and window positions was jarring and will create havoc for people trying to record screen areas with a screen capture product such as Camtasia. I have noted this same problem in the past when a poll is displayed. GoToWebinar could really use some design consideration given to keeping display areas consistent across different content shares.
- I have saved the biggest problem for last… Video playback is not captured in GoToWebinar recordings! I consider this a critical functionality gap and is the main reason I would probably not yet use the new feature in a real public event. The development team is obviously working on the issue, as this is an area where their own online help files are lagging the current operation. The support page for video sharing says that the recording will contain a blank screen during video playback, but this has been changed. Now the recorder automatically pauses during video playback and resumes once the video stops. That could potentially trip up an unsuspecting presenter who narrates some important information while showing a silent video. Watch out!
I did not test the beta Simulated Live functionality. For this feature I am relying on the product notes. The current GoToWebinar implementation is easiest for me to think of as a slightly more functional recording playback.
- As a host, you record a live webinar (either with live attendees or with presenters only). Then you can schedule the playback as a new upcoming webinar. You can have people register for a particular date and time, as they would for any other webinar. At the given time, the playback starts up and the audience sees the webinar running as a normal GoToWebinar session. If the recording included a poll, the new attendees see the poll and can participate - but if the recorded session showed the poll results, only the original recorded results are shown… The new audience responses are logged for reporting after the session, but they are not included in the results displayed in the session. Similarly, attendees can type questions, but they will simply be captured for later reporting after the webinar.
- There is no provision for having live panelists/presenters in the new session. So you can't set things up live, play the old content part, and then come back to a live Q&A section for instance. It's all or nothing. You also can't have someone monitoring and typing responses to the new, live questions coming in from the new live attendees. This is a capability I have seen and used in other product implementations of Simulated Live webinars.
- Interestingly, you can also choose to let people register for a webinar and have it play back for them instantly. Of course this isn't really simulating a live scheduled webinar - they know it is a playback being delivered for them. The main advantage for the host over using a standard recording playback is that attendees don't have a time slider control… They have to watch from beginning to end in realtime, just as they would on a live webinar. In some applications, that can be a useful restriction.
- Simulated Live is available to customers on anything besides a "Starter Plan." One very nice feature is that it gives customers a way to exceed their plan limits for webinar attendance! For instance, a typical 100-attendee account allows up to 1000 registrations. In a live webinar, only the first 100 registrants could attend. But all 1000 could watch the Simulated Live playback in a new scheduled session. Very sneaky!
Even though the features need a chance to stabilize and work out the last issues, it is great to see the product enjoying significant development attention. It speaks well for LogMeIn's continued dedication to promoting and advancing GoToWebinar as a viable online collaboration tool. Kudos!