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February 06, 2008

Introducing Web Conferencing: Real-time Collaboration for Today's Businesses

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Senior Editor


Web conferencing is a recently introduced technology that lets companies conduct online meetings over the Internet. Today’s Web conferencing solutions go far beyond the type of collaboration tools seen in the early days of the Internet, which amounted to little more than discussions conducted using text message boards.
 
Today, Web conferencing is a “real-time” technology, letting meetings be conducted in real-time over the Web. Such meetings are also no longer restrained to text communications, but instead may include voice or video, along with tools that let participants edit or otherwise manipulate information seen by all users taking part in the conference.
 
To engage in a Web conference, each user sits at his or her computer and “logs in.” This may involved simply going to a particular Web site where the user can access his or her account, or downloading and launching a desktop application. In both cases, an Internet connection (in most cases, broadband) is required.
 
Browser-based Web conferencing tools typically use Flash or Java technology to present information in real-time and allow users to collaborate with other participants, although there some browser-only solutions do not require any plug-ins. If video chat is included in the mix, the user will need a Web cam, either built into his or her computer (some laptops now include this feature) or connected as a peripheral. If on-screen communication is combined with voice, the user will need a headset with microphone, or some other type of phone that connects to the Web conference.
 
Web conferencing can take a variety of forms. One of these, in which a speaker presents information to an audience (which may have limited ability to participate), usually is referred to as a Webinar. In a similar vein, a Webcast involves information being transmitted one-way to one or more recipients.
 
Webinars, and other interactive sessions, is where the true power of Web conferencing lies. Real-time collaboration tools built into modern Web conferencing solutions enable business meetings to be carried on effectively without every participant needing to travel to a particular physical location. This can save companies quite a bit of money on travel, is environmentally friendly, and tends to boost productivity.
 
Among the tools Web conference users might encounter are slide presentation (e.g. using PowerPoint), live video (via Web cam), real-time voice chat (VoIP), recording (so interactions can be saved for later review), text chat, surveys and polls, and sharing of screens/desktops/applications.
 
Many providers sell Web conferencing as a service, an appealing option for companies that don’t want to add more internal resources for managing technology or communications systems.
 
Today, Web conferencing has grown from its infancy as asynchronous text postings on discussion boards to real-time collaboration. To learn more, please visit the Web Conferencing channel on TMCnet.com, brought to you by Packetel, Inc.
 
Mae Kowalke is an associate editor for TMCnet, covering VoIP, CRM, call center and wireless technologies. She also blogs for TMCnet here.



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