Over the past 2 weeks, we have defined web conferencing purchasing terms and terms that define the technology behind a web conference. Today, we'll look at the features offered by most conferencing providers.
This is a standard feature that allows you to collaborate and brainstorm using drawing tools, text etc within remote meetings using a shared online whiteboard.
Web Cam Video
Today’s web conferencing providers typically allow you to broadcast in-meeting video via a standard web camera. Multi-point video, giving a video view of several different participants in the meeting, is also available.
Webcast versus Web Conferencing
Webcast services typically only offer “one to many” presentation type functionality. Like a television program, folks are at their computer viewing and listening to the information being presented. Web conferencing can also be used for this purpose but it provides many collaborative features for back and forth interaction between all participants, for truly collaborative work.
Also known as a virtual business card, some web meeting interfaces allow participants to download presenter contact information into a v-card from the presentation interface, without the need to send it separately via email.
Again, it does seem obvious. But, not all web conferencing products offer this functionality. InterCall Web Meeting allows you to survey your audience prior to, during or after your meeting concludes online. The survey is generated from and the data is stored within the Web conferencing Service, and answers are typically stored with the participation reports you can view after your meeting.
Some web conferencing providers give you a virtual view of your audience in a simple column style, in auditorium, around a table etc.
Standard or customizable scheduling templates are generated in the meeting invitations. This can make life easier if you schedule many meetings.
Record and Playback
Most web conferencing services give you the option to record the meeting. Most allow you to host the recording for online viewing. Some also offer the ability to download the file to offline viewing or CD burning.
This functionality allows you to generate registration and store data in the service but is not offered by all web conferencing services!
PowerPoint Animation support
PowerPoint animation is animation created using Microsoft PowerPoint software. Not all web conferencing services support this type of animation
Most web conferencing platforms allow some sort of polling of the audience, where you show a question to the audience and give them a few moments to respond during your meeting. This is different from Surveys (see above) because the questions appear during the meeting instead of before or after. Most polling tools allow for multiple-choice questions, which is helpful during a meeting to quickly see real-time results and statistics. But some Web conferencing systems also offer the opportunity to collect answers in text format, making them useful for gathering detailed feedback or performing “quizzes” for training. Polling results are usually conveniently stored in the system for later reference.
Instant Meetings and/or One-Click Meetings
These web meetings require no scheduling prior to start time. These types of meetings are often started from a web service user interface or an additional Plug-in (i.e. Outlook or Lotus Notes).
This is added functionality that allows Web conferencing users to see a complete list of web conferencing meeting from the service itself. This way you can schedule around your colleagues meetings, publicly advertise a session etc.
Moderated Question and Answer
This allows the presenters or co-presenters to manage inbound questions sent in from the web. They can take questions from the group, answer them verbally, or respond in writing via the question management tool on the Web conferencing interface. This is much more structured than the format of the Chat tool. Questions and answers are saved and can be stored for reference after the meeting.
Another web meeting feature allows you to show emotional indicators during the meeting to provide presenters with instant feedback. Typically these emoticons will tell presenters to slow down, speed up etc.
This feature allows you to distribute documents electronically via the platform versus emailing or faxing them later.
Flash Animation Support
If you are using an animation file created using Adobe Flash animation software, you will want to make sure your web conferencing service supports this type of file.
Many services allow you to convert a document into a format that can be displayed during a meeting or stored in a virtual library for later use. Typically, it will preserve your presentation’s slide transitions and animations. This typically consumes less bandwidth than application or desktop sharing during the meeting.
This feature allows you to display your entire computer desktop (your computer monitor view) to your participants during a meeting. It’s like they are viewing your monitor from your chair.
Using a breakout session, you can conduct virtual, small, collaborative activities via your Web meeting. Trainers can “walk around the room” and see how each group is doing. This can include “web only” break outs or “web and phone” break outs. This is highly effective for encouraging people who are receiving Web-based training to loosen up and participate in in-depth discussion instead of just “watching” the class.
This is basically instant messaging that is isolated within the context of the Web conference. But an additional features can be the restriction to chat only with presenters or technical help, and only have to “chat to all” if you choose. This is typically less structured than Question and Answer tools (see below), however, some services do not differentiate the two. Some tools allow you to save a record of the Chat comments, but not all Web conferencing systems do this.
Audio Streaming, Webcasting or Audio Broadcasting
These terms mean that participants can to listen to the audio portion of the conference using their computer speakers. The speaker still calls into a phone line, and can set up a meeting where either all participants must listen via computer, or to allow participants to choose the method to listen. For listerners, it’s quick and easy to connect, with no “outside” connections via the phone. But the down-sides can be that there is no operator available to jump online for assistance during a meeting if there is static. Many times you have to have a streaming player installed on your computer to listen. The most common streaming coders and decoders are Windows Media Player, Real Networks, and QuickTime but coders can also be proprietary.
This feature allows you to display applications that are open on your computer desktop (software, document, website etc). It’s like they are viewing the document from your chair. Only the selected program is visible in this sharing mode, not your entire desktop screen (see Desktop Sharing, below).
Audio Conference Controls
This service stores contact information and automatically dials participants when the conference begins, eliminating the need to remember call-in numbers. During the meeting, it allows users to mute, un-mute, do an automated “roll call”, etc. The effectiveness and functionality of audio conference controls is dependent upon the provider of the audio conferencing services, which may or may not be the same provider on the back-end that runs the Web conferencing system.
Web conferencing annotation allows you to perform mark-ups on the content you are displaying during your meeting. You know – highlighting, check marks, text notes etc. These tools are very useful when collaborating on documents, because you can “point” to what you’re talking about.
I hope you found these terms helpful. But keep in mind that this is by no means a complete list. You are bound to stumble across many more terms that may result in head scratching. I apologize for missing those ones in advance! To see a list of the web conferencing features that InterCall provides, click here. As always, if there are other questions that I can answer, let me know below in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer it!
Dan Uhlmeyer is a Sr. Product Manager and the "Web Conferencing" blogger. He has over eight years of product experience in Web Conferencing and currently manages InterCall Web Meeting, InterCall’s proprietary unified communications tool. When not punching on the keyboard, you can find Dan enjoying time with his wife and two children or running a marathon.