LogMeIn recently introduced some major changes to their GoToMeeting web collaboration product. I typically stay away from in-depth analysis of products intended for "web meetings" as opposed to "web events" (webinars or webcasts). The intended use cases are different, as are customer priorities. Price points are lower and functionality is simpler by design.
But in this case, I was interested enough to take a look, as history has taught me that changes made to GoToMeeting tend to have a way of eventually creeping into GoToWebinar. So it's possible this might give a taste of things to come someday.
Before we even get into functional changes, it's worth noting that licensing costs just got cheaper. When does that ever happen? Prepaid annual plans used to work out to an equivalent cost of $29/month for 150 participants or $39/month for 250 participants. The same plans now work out to the equivalent of $12 and $16/month respectively. Less than half the previous cost? Nice!
But then I noticed another new wrinkle on the plans page. There's a new optional add-on: "GoToWebinar $20/month." Huh? How could GoToWebinar be that cheap? A 100-person GoToWebinar license costs $89/month when prepaid on an annual plan. And you're telling me I can get 150 participants for a total of $32/month? There's got to be a catch…
I contacted Daniel Waas, the Director of Marketing for GoToWebinar. He informed me that this was a limited time offer that they are testing. No matter what size GoToMeeting plan you license, the GoToWebinar add-on under this offer is capped at 100 participants per webinar and is limited to webcast mode (which has a few restrictions I won't go into here). So that makes a lot more sense as a stepping stone to full GoToWebinar licensing.
There are some back-end updates that I won't go into. LogMeIn refers to the new administrative interface as The Hub. Quite honestly, I didn't have enough meetings to test it properly. Instead, I concentrated on changes to the in-meeting user interface.
I have to be careful not to fall into the trap of reacting negatively to anything that is new. The familiar is always more comfortable, and I was very familiar with the old interface. I also spend all my time in GoToWebinar, which has a more advanced and flexible control panel structure. So I run the risk of thinking something is missing in the new interface that is actually just a designed simplification for the more streamlined meeting product. But with those caveats in place, here are some thoughts.
It's immediately obvious that GoToMeeting has been optimized for video conversations as the primary use case. Screen sharing is still present, but it feels deemphasized upon starting and joining a session. Controls for webcam and microphone are front and center at all times.
Mobile compatibility was also evident as a design consideration, but I ran into an issue when I tried to join a meeting as an attendee from my iPhone. It gave me an option to join immediately from the browser with a quick "Tap to join." Trying it gave me an error that Safari could not open the desired page. I had to download and install the GoToMeeting app, which worked like a charm. It allowed me to access the phone's front-facing camera and microphone (with appropriate prompts to let me know I was going live).
The new UI lifts a design feature from Webex and overlays circle icons for common audio/video functions at the center bottom of the screen. On my organizer/presenter desktop screen, these disappeared after 10 seconds, reappearing when I moved my cursor anywhere within the GoToMeeting window. On my iPhone screen, they stayed present. Then I found that if I tapped the screen once, they disappeared so I could see the full video or screen share on display.
The iPhone app gives the ability to swipe back and forth between shared screen or webcam video(s), but you can't see both at once. It also features the strangest control icon I have seen in a long time:
What is that thing in the first-of-three spot at upper right? It looks a little like the steering wheel on a Corvette Stingray, but it brings up the same microphone mute/unmute button already made prominent in the overlay circle controls. Very strange. I spent a while browsing through help and support entries online, but I was unsuccessful at finding a description. [UPDATE: LogMeIn says that icon actually IS a steering wheel! It stands for "Commuter Mode," which purposely blanks the screen so you aren't distracted by visuals and just puts a big mute button up so you can quickly and easily mute the meeting to take a call or concentrate on driving. It's been around a while, which shows how little I use mobile devices for web collaboration. I'm a deskbound guy.]
I found a few items that annoyed me in the redesign. The old "expand/compress" arrow is gone on the control panel for both organizers and attendees. To hide and redisplay the controls, you need to search for the same two-arrow icon that gets used for a different purpose in another location! In the following screen shot from my organizer desktop screen, look at the top of the lefthand column of icons, above the red microphone symbol. That hides and displays the control panel. Notice the same icon at top right? It manages that mini preview window. The old icon was prominent and intuitive. I think the new one is harder to describe and understand for neophytes.
Speaking of those circle controls in the vertical strip, the only one with a descriptive popup tooltip is the record start/stop button (the concentric circles). You are left to guess at the function of the others. You might think the big red telephone handset symbol has something to do with connecting or hanging up your telephone connection, but you'd be wrong. It actually prompts the organizer to leave and end the meeting! I'm not sure that needs to be quite so convenient and prominent in the "commonly used functions" strip.
But my biggest frustration has to do with the new interface for typed Chat. This follows a modern trend that I am powerless to combat, but I'm going to keep whining about it anyway. The design team has gone with the mobile instant messaging format that has taken the web collaboration world by storm. Look at all the wasted space…
This format makes it harder to see and follow multiple comment threads, requires much more scrolling, and creates visual confusion with randomly sized boxes and all kinds of colors fighting to provide some sort of informational context and failing miserably. On my desktop attendee computer, the default space for Chat is enough to show only one and a half chat messages. That's simply unacceptable.
On the iPhone app, Chat takes place on its own dedicated screen, but then separates chat threads into different subcategories for "Everyone," "Organizers," and individually named participants. You have to keep jumping between displays to see conversations going on in the various threads. I found it particularly disconcerting as an attendee to write a message in the Organizers thread and see the private response from the organizer come back in a new thread under that person's name! I can't even reference my original question without jumping to the original thread panel. It's just too segmented for convenience.
All in all, we have some hits and some misses, as I feel with just about any software product update.
The new pricing is great, and helps GoToMeeting in cost comparisons with competitors.
Performance seems very good, and audio/video worked nicely in my tests (although I didn't test with large participant numbers and slower connections, GoToMeeting has a solid history and is reliable in these areas).
I quibble with some of the design changes, but they didn't build it to suit my individual preferences. I'm willing to let it grow on me and see if additional familiarity brings more comfort.
The Hub is likely to be quite helpful in adding more control and convenience for organizers and administrators… I have read some positive comments from other reviewers in that regard.
According to Jen Mathews, the Global Lead for UCC External Communications at LogMeIn, new GoToMeeting users will default to the new interface. Existing users have the option to switch to the new interface (found in Preferences-Meetings). Non-English versions of the interface should be phased into production over the next couple of weeks.