Today's post is aimed primarily at webinar vendors… Product managers, design teams, and software engineers responsible for crafting the way their webinar/webcast platforms work. But please keep reading if you host, administer, or manage webinars for your organization. You have a tremendously important action item to take care of.
I'll make multiple references to the following picture. Click to open it full-size in another window for easy access:
This isn't taken from any particular webinar product. I cobbled it together by hand as an illustrative example of design features I often see replicated in many different platforms.
For the most part, I don't have a problem with the data that vendors include in their reports. I have a problem with the way it gets presented. I find that I usually have to do quite a few manual editing tasks in Excel to make the data useful and convenient for analysis. On an occasional basis, that's no big deal. But when I have to do the same tedious operations over and over across many report runs, I find myself asking why.
The easy answer is that the design teams at webinar companies don't host and manage webinars. They write software. And so the practicality aspects aren't obvious to them. If you have to do a little more work to massage the data the way YOU want it, what's the big deal? It's not that hard, and everybody has their own idea of what the "right" display should be… If we make things look the way you want, who's to say another customer won't want it another way?
That's valid. All I want is a starting point that makes it easier for me to manipulate things to the way I want them. Let's look at a few specifics to clarify the idea.
1) REGISTRATION INFORMATION. Look at spreadsheet columns B, C, D, E. They present standard cookie-cutter fields that almost every vendor allows you to capture on your registration forms. They are followed a bunch of other data columns, and then way out at the end, we see columns M, N, O. They contain the rest of the registration information for each participant. What are they doing out there? The answer is that these columns contain an arbitrary number of registration fields that have either been selected from the vendor's list of allowed demographic items or have been added as custom fields by the person who scheduled the event. I get why it's more convenient for the software coders to just tack them on at the end of all the fixed-position columns. But when I share the report with our stakeholders, they expect to see all the captured information about each registrant grouped together. So I end up cutting those trailing columns and inserting them next to the earlier columns. Can't some clever programmer figure out how to dynamically generate the column structure so all the registration data is reported together?
2) TIME AND DATE INFORMATION. Look at spreadsheet columns F, G, H. Each date/time field carries all the information I need. The problem is that these get interpreted by Excel as text fields, so they are useless for sorting or performing calculations. It would offer much more convenience if vendors presented the data in a standard date/time format understood by Excel. If you want to indicate the time zone used in the report, put it in a column header label or add it as an explanatory text row or something else. And while we're on the subject, there's really no need for repeating the event date in the Enter and Exit time columns. All we want is a quick glance at the time codes. We can assume people came in on the same date.
3) TIME IN SESSION. Spreadsheet column I contains a similar formatting issue to the previous one. The data is readable as text, but can't be sorted or used for Excel calculations. Just change the label to "Minutes in session" and insert integer values in the column.
4) PARTICIPANT RECONNECTS. I'm cheating here, as I didn't show an example on my sample spreadsheet. But most vendors have a problem figuring out how to deal with participants who re-enter a webinar session. Webex traditionally added extra rows to their reports with a new entry for every connect time. GoToWebinar traditionally added extra text information in the Enter Time field, separating each connect time with a comma. I admit that it's hard to know what a user is likely to want. After dealing with this situation for many years and countless webinars, I have decided that the most useful snapshot view is to see one record for each participant showing Earliest Entry Time, Final Exit Time, Entry Count, and Active Minutes In Session. That gives me key data points across my entire attendee population that I can quickly scan, analyze, and manipulate further in Excel if necessary.
ACTION ITEM FOR WEBINAR ADMINISTRATORS
Did any of these frustrations or suggestions strike a chord with you? Don't tell me… TELL YOUR VENDOR! Redesigning software applications is costly and inconvenient. Companies only do it if they perceive a need. YOU are the one with the power to make change happen. Get on the vendor's forum. File a ticket with an enhancement request. Write an email. Let them know what would make you more likely to keep using the product and recommend it to others. Product managers are not mind readers. Your feedback is the only way they know what matters to their users.