We have another new webinar technology to discuss! FLOW is a new offering from omNovia Technologies. (This company seems to really have something against initial uppercase conventions in branding.)
I have used their previous web conferencing product for many years. It started out as omNovia and went through a name change to Webinato. I still recommend Webinato for some client needs, but it is hampered by a reliance on Adobe Flash technology. Many companies have prohibited the use of Flash on employee computers, and even when it is available (as in the Google Chrome web browser), it now requires confirmation clicks in order to use. Adobe will completely discontinue distribution and support for Flash at the end of 2020, so web conferencing vendors have been switching to HTML5 and WebRTC to support web collaboration. FLOW marks this same HTML5 transition for omNovia.
But FLOW is not just a rewrite of the underlying communications protocol, keeping everything else the same. The company decided to create a substantially new product that will operate in parallel with the final years of the Flash-based Webinato product. FLOW is positioned as having features tailored specifically for use in marketing and lead generation webinars. The company says that FLOW is not intended for use in peer-level web meetings and ad hoc conferences.
I have had a chance to do some testing with a pre-release version, but I have not yet employed it in a live client webinar. So I can’t comment on robustness or performance with large numbers of participants. The online FAQ page says that online events should be able to handle audience sizes of more than a thousand.
The most obvious functional differentiator separating FLOW from other webinar products is the use of a “Storyboard.” You set up an online event by creating a sequence of planned content pieces that will be activated in order (you can also access them out of order at your discretion). These can include live screen share, displaying uploaded PowerPoint slides, activating a survey, conducting Q&A, showing presenter bios, or broadcasting an uploaded audio or video clip.
There are some interesting options available. If you have multiple presenters associated with the webinar, you can have the software automatically turn on a given presenter’s microphone and/or webcam at the start of each content segment. This makes life a little easier for presenters or a moderator trying to make sure that mikes get muted and unmuted correctly throughout the session. You can also have the software display a countdown timer for presenters in each content section, in an attempt to keep people on schedule with their material.
Slides get uploaded to static images, with excellent clarity. As with more and more webinar technologies these days, the vendor has decided to stop trying to chase Microsoft’s frequent functionality updates, and instead asks you to rely on screen sharing if you want to show transition effects or animations on the slides. One nice thing about defining a Storyboard content block with uploaded slides is that you can designate a specific range of slide numbers to be associated with one content block (and potentially one presenter), and then upload the same slide deck with a different range of slides as a separate content block. This makes it clear to multiple presenters who is responsible for which section of the presentation, and also lets you assign timers to each section.
Another cute option for uploaded slides is that you can click a checkbox to automatically make the slides available for attendee download as a PDF file. Of course you can’t make any edits to the PDF, but in many cases where you just want a quick ‘n easy way to distribute your slides, this handles the entire process in a single click.
In order to properly play audio/video clips and match broadcast audio and video streams, FLOW assumes that all attendees will use computer audio. There is no built-in provision for a telephone bridge to provide a dial-in listening option. I was very surprised (and pleased!) to see near instantaneous transmission of signal from my presenter computer to my attendee computer. I had thought that a 15-30 second broadcasting buffer lag was built into HTML5 as part of the protocol. If FLOW is able to maintain that zero-lag transmission speed, it eliminates a major concern I have had in training presenters how to deal with a supposedly live presentation where they can’t really get two-way feedback from attendees in real time.
It will be interesting to see how the new platform catches on, with its more focused concentration on a certain type of structured webinar. I can definitely see the advantages for multi-presenter scenarios, and the lack of broadcast delay looks like a potential advantage over many competitors. We’ll have to keep an eye on this one.