Most people will be familiar with the big web conferencing providers, but there is an increasing number of smaller, simpler services that let you set up instant meetings with the minimum of fuss. The latest entrant to this market is slideshare with their new Zipcast offering.
This isn’t an in depth review, and in fairness the tool is so simple it probably doesn’t need it.
What did I like?
It really is as simple as they say; from any presentation on slideshare (yours, or anyone else’s) simply click on the Zipcast link to log in and start your meeting
There’s no requirement to install anything (assuming you have the Flash plug in)
In the brief testing that I did this morning, there was no lag in updating the slides
Video quality was acceptable
The overall functionality is most of what you need for a simple presentation
Guests can log in with their slideshare or Facebook account
What was I less sure about?
The free version doesn’t provide audio (a conference call service is available with a premium plan). This is an understandable limitation, but if I was going to fire up Skype for audio, I could just share my presentation that way.
As I have accounts with the bigger services, I would tend to use them when at my desktop. This kind of simple ad-hoc meeting is something I’m more likely to do on the move, but the problem is these days I may only have my iPad with me, and the lack of Flash means this is a no go
Despite having a couple of criticisms, I think this is a really promising start. It’s already a very usable solution, particularly if you already have presentations stored on slideshare.
At the eLN Showcase event on 9th July, the Onlignment team each presented a Pechu Kucha (20 slides, each 20 seconds in duration). Today we present Phil’s session, titled Getting the job done with live online training.
Most training is carried out live in the classroom or on-the-job, but face-to-face instruction is not always the most practical or cost-effective option. Web conferencing allows you to continue to offer live training but without the need for all participants to be present in the same location. The ‘virtual classroom’ is ideal for running short training sessions, follow-ups, seminars and meetings. In this Pecha Kucha session, you’ll learn how leading organisations are making use of web conferencing to provide more training more efficiently and how they have equipped their classroom instructors to make a successful transition to online delivery.
At the INGO E-Learning Conference today at Oxfam I had a chance to chat with Martin Baker of the Charity Learning Consortium. He told me about a new business book abstracting service called getAbstract, which is distributed in the UK by LMMatters. What I found interesting was the story he told me about one of the early clients for this service, a major multinational (to remain unnamed). The CEO decided to push the occasional 5-page abstract to lower levels of management within the organisation, as a stimulus for a subsequent discussion to be held online. The first abstract covered ther topic of innovation and they prepared the follow-up webinar on the assumption that 30 or 40 would attend. Tne result? An audience of 800.
This brought home two thoughts to me. Firstly, that the old 1-2 of an asynchronous piece of content followed by a synchronous debrief worked so well. Secondly that it would have been impossible to handle such an unpredictably large response in a face-to-face setting. Web conferencing really is the scalable option.
We all know that setting up the environment for virtual meetings or training sessions involves a commitment in terms of hardware, software or both. Or does it? Genius Room hope to persuade us otherwise, with the launch of their new PocketMeeting service.
The premise is pretty simple. You go to their website, enter your credit card details and for $5.00 you get 24 hours of access to your own screen sharing environment. It doesn’t feature voice or chat, or in fact anything other than screensharing, but that’s the beauty of it really. No big learning curve, no complex tool to remember, no vendor specific plug ins (although it does rely on you having Java installed).
If you occasionally have the need to share presentations or other desktop materials, and are happy to use conference calling or VoIP for the audio, PocketMeeting is certainly worth investigating.
I recently read this excellent post over on The Webinar Blog, considering some of the difficulties involved with the use of Voice over IP (VoIP). I would encourage you to read Ken’s post, and I agree with most of what he says in as much as they’re all real issues, but I can’t help feeling that the root of the problem isn’t being addressed.
None of the issues raised are really about VoIP itself, which is a relatively mature and very usable technology. Internet speeds are continually increasing, and the quality achievable with VoIP is at least as good as a regular telephone.
As is so often the case with technology solutions, the real issue is with the implementation. Too often, the implementation is considered a success once the software has been rolled out across the organisation. In fact this is when the real work should begin.
Employees must be provided with the right equipment; if you want to use VoIP, make sure they have good quality headsets. Ensure that every user knows how to set up and use that equipment. Despite what vendors tell you, none of the tools are so intuitive that people can be expected to use them without some support and training. Invest the time at this point to check that everything technical works, and I do mean everything. Set up a pre-recorded webinar and get every user to log in and make sure they can navigate through it and that their audio and video works. This is a much simpler thing to deal with if you plan for it and ramp up your helpdesk support for the testing period. It’s certainly easier than trying to deal with the issue on an ad-hoc basis once someone is supposed to be taking part in a live session.
Even with this much better level of implementation, it still pays to have a fallback for every session that is being run. If you’re using VoIP, always make sure there is an alternative conference call number available. When a problem does occur, you don’t want to waste valuable time trying to fix it if you can provide everyone with an alternative.
The tools are there to make communication easier, and they do work. Let’s make sure that we invest the time in making sure our people really have what they need to use the tools effectively.