Coronavirus concerns are everywhere. Companies and individuals are in a rush to move meetings and events to the web. If you are considering joining the migration, you might want to take a moment to classify what types of web collaboration you need. It will make it easier to find the most appropriate software and get the right kind of help for your situation.
1) Person-to-person meetings. Sales calls, one-to-one conversations, interviews, manager-employee talks, consulting sessions… You don't need a lot of fancy features. Just something that lets two people have a fully interactive meeting of equals. This is what Facetime was designed to do on smart phones. Skype has been around forever providing the capability. Web conferencing vendors often allow this functionality as a free loss leader to get people used to working with their products and to "sneak them in" to a corporate environment. Extremely common to have both parties on video, leading to this sometimes being referred to as a "video call."
2) Small group team meetings. Department status meetings, sales calls with a few people, brainstorming sessions… Everyone participates equally and has a fully open and engaged status in the conversation. You can still find free offerings with capacity limits up to 5-10 people in a session, but low cost licensing allows for group sizes ranging up to 100 (20 is a more practical limit to maintain group sanity). Additional features may become useful, such as the ability to share files for download, record the session, or get a transcript of what was said. Session participants need the ability to turn microphones and webcams on and off. Often referred to as a "web meeting," or "web conference" (although web conferencing is also used as an umbrella term for all forms of online collaboration).
3) Webinars and webcasts. The most flexible and wide-ranging category. A generic middle ground between small, fully interactive discussions and huge one-way broadcasts out to passive audiences. Sessions could have anywhere from 20-1000 people in attendance. More structure than (1) and (2), led by one or more presenters, with controlled avenues for feedback and response from the listening audience. Useful features may include those mentioned above, plus interactive attendee polls, multi-question surveys, question management, private presentation team chat, control over content layout, multilingual operation, custom registration and attendance reporting. There is now no practical difference between "webinar" and "webcast" as used in practical conversation, and people interchange the terms at will.
4) Instruction and education. A specialized subset of webinars. Presentation-focused, with the ability to show visual materials such as PowerPoint slides or software demonstrations. Needs vary greatly, with potential benefits from features such as fee-based registration, attendance/attention confirmation for education credit, scored quizzes/tests, ability to break attendees into smaller work groups and reassemble them into the main presentation, ability to ask/answer questions in a controlled format, ability to integrate with Learning Management Systems software. Most common class sizes are in the 5-50 range. There is no universally accepted terminology for this. "Online training" may refer to recorded or self-run on-demand courses, so make it clear that you mean a live interactive web session when talking about this use case.
5) Large-audience broadcasts. Almost exclusively one-way presentation of information to a large audience that is mostly passive. Corporate communications (internal or external), public service announcements and briefings, certain categories of entertainment may fall into this category. If attendees are allowed to submit questions at all, there is no expectation that the majority will be seen or acted upon during the session. This used to be the primary meaning when talking about "webcasts" before that term became synonymous with interactive webinars.
6) Hybrid events. A specialized subset of (3), (4), or (5). Presentations are made to a local audience in the same physical location as the presenter, while additional remote viewers can participate as well. Requires more careful setup and management of the local and remote technologies to ensure that they do not interfere with each other and to provide support for the presenters who cannot split their attention easily between the two audience groups.
7) Virtual events or conferences. An attempt to recreate online the experience of attending a large-scale conference, trade show, or convention with many different presentations, opportunities for networking, opportunities to explore and discuss product offerings. Extremely sophisticated and purpose-built software platforms may allow the event host to recreate or design the virtual conference hall, allow on-screen avatars that move around the virtual space, and log visitor activities. Impractical to set up on a customer's own, this is almost always licensed with dedicated account management and support by the technology vendor.
It is worth mentioning recorded presentations. Clients sometimes ask me about creating a webinar when it turns out they want recorded content for on-demand viewing on the web. This is not a form of online web collaboration and should be considered on its own merits, separate from the 7 categories mentioned here. If the recording is audio only, it's a podcast. If it includes visual content, it is an online video. Even if the material was recorded from a live webinar or webcast, once it is converted to an on-demand offering, it should be thought of and handled as a distinct type of offering.
You may ask why I don't list products or vendors associated with each of the listed categories. There are several reasons. Offerings, deals, and pricing change frequently - especially now as vendors rush to respond to an upsurge in interest. My business focus is solidly on category 3 - webinars and webcasts. I keep a page of vendors and products listed on my Webinar Success website with links to more than 45 offerings in this space. It would be unfair to only mention three or four of them here.
If you are looking at selecting a webinar/webcast product for critical business operations, you may want to review my Checklist For Selecting A Web Event Vendor. It is a long, detailed planning guide that helps you concentrate on the capabilities that are priorities for your needs and helps focus your conversation with potential vendors. Don't bother if you are looking at conferencing technology to handle smaller web meetings though. The guide is only practical for major business decisions that involve serious budgeting.