I’m going to spend a few days covering web conferencing features I haven’t previously focused on. Today’s post looks at file sharing.
As with so many web collaboration features, file sharing functionality seems straightforward and obvious at first. But on further examination, we see ways in which the implementation can vary significantly in different products.
The basic idea is easy to understand. Instead of simply displaying a user’s screen or an uploaded file to meeting participants, we would like a way to actually let participants access and download a copy of an electronic document to their own computers.
Inside a web conference session, several questions come to mind:
- Can you preselect a file that you will want to share and upload it before the active meeting starts? This can potentially avoid long wait times in the meeting if the person sharing has slow upload speeds on their network.
- Can you select a file from your computer and share it as an “on-the-fly” decision during an active meeting? This could be important for group collaboration exercises where you want everyone to have a copy of the changes that were made to the file during the session.
- Who gets the option to upload files for sharing with others? During a collaborative peer-to-peer meeting, you might want everyone to have this authority. In a more structured “one-to-many” presentation, you might only want the host or presenter to be able to post a file for download by attendees. Can you grant and restrict the functionality to certain individuals or roles within a session?
- Can you share multiple files with participants? A few web conference products only have the ability to make a single file available at a time.
- Is the ability to access and download a shared file temporary or ongoing throughout the session? I have seen at least one product that initiated file sharing as an interruption to the display of any other visual materials in the web conference. The presentation couldn’t continue until the presenter had closed the file sharing window. Any participant who had not yet downloaded the document was out of luck. Thank goodness this is a rare restriction!
- Can you allow access to a shared file starting when you choose during the session? Or are shared files immediately available to participants from the moment they log in?
- Can the person sharing the document provide explanatory text for the shared file? Sometimes computer file names are not very descriptive and the person sharing might not think to change the file name ahead of time. I love web conferencing products that allow the sharer to include an arbitrary text title for the shared document – or even write a sentence or two of popup “help” text that lets you give a more complete description of what the file contains.
Then there are additional considerations that apply after a live web conference has occurred:
- Can viewers of the webinar recording access files that were shared during the session?
- If shared files are available after a web meeting, are they associated with the meeting that occurred, or with the conferencing “room” in use by the organization? In other words, if a new web conference takes place, will previously shared files be available to participants in the new session? If someone shares files in that session, do they become available to people viewing the previous session’s recording?
- If the webinar software allows webcasts to display previously recorded sessions (either running in fully automated mode or as content in a new live session being run by a presenter), can the new automated or live session make the previously recorded session’s shared files available to new attendees?
These differences in implementation are easy to overlook when getting started with web conferencing. But if you don’t think about your use cases and how/whether your webinar software vendor can deal with them, you may find yourself unpleasantly surprised later when the software doesn’t let you do something you assumed you would be able to.