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July 24, 2009

Use of On-Demand Web Conferencing Continues to Grow

By Patrick Barnard, Senior Web Editor, TMCnet


The Web conferencing market continues to see rapid growth, as companies worldwide continue to discover the value of being able to communicate and share documents through a single, Web-based interface.
 
With Web conferencing, company employees, customers, partners, and prospects can hold live meetings where they can collaborate and share information – without having to physically meet in the same location. These meetings can be conducted on a scheduled or ad hoc basis. Due to the current economic recession, many companies are cutting back on business travel, which in turn is driving increased adoption of Web conferencing (not to mention audio and video conferencing as well).

For the most part, Web conferencing is delivered as a service over the Internet by third-party providers known as conferencing service providers, or CSPs. Most of these Web-based services are offered on an on-demand, “pay-as-you-go” basis (customers are typically charged by the minute) – however some companies also subscribe to these services on an annual basis, and thus pay a flat monthly or annual fee. Still others have invested in hardware and network infrastructure so that they can host their own Web conferences without using a CSP (News - Alert).

Most Web conferencing services are now delivered via the software-as-a-service model, meaning there is no software client to download onto your computer in order to use the service. Some services, however, still require the user to download a software client in order to secure the connection. Both scenarios allow for rapid uptake of the service – it is analogous to a utility: When you want to use it, you turn it on, and when you done, you turn it off – you are only charged for the amount of time you use the service.

Most Web conferencing platforms give users the option to access the audio in two ways: Attendees can either listen to the presentation on the telephone, or they can don a headset and listen to the presentation using VoIP, where the audio is delivered over the Internet. Either way, the audio is synchronized with the visual elements being presented on-screen.

A Webinar is a special type of Web conference where a presentation is delivered to attendees in one-way fashion. Typically you have a speaker (presenter) or speakers (presenters) who make a presentation, including slides and audio, to the other attendees.

While Webinars usually allow for some audience interaction, it tends to be limited. The presenters might push an occasional polling question out to the audience and attendees can respond by selecting predefined answers using the radio buttons on the interface. The results of the poll can then be pushed out to the entire audience. Attendees can also text chat with each other, by way of the interface, either privately or by group, plus they can ask questions of the presenters, either using audio, text chat or email. Some web conferencing platforms don’t offer these capabilities, but most do. Beyond the functionality, the level of interaction that takes place depends on what the presenters/sponsors of the event want to allow doing the presentation. Typically a moderator will handle the introduction and conclusion of the presentation. The moderator may also be in charge of “pushing slides,” i.e. the timing of the visuals.

The Conference Group (News - Alert) is a leading provider of Web-based, on-demand audio, Web and videoconferencing services. The company’s ReadyShow offering is a full-featured, on-demand, “reservationless” Web conferencing service that lets companies and individual users conduct conferences either on a scheduled basis or “on-the-fly.” Because it is a fully Web-based service, it is ideal for ad-hoc conferences where simplicity and flexibility are required.

ReadyShow supports Microsoft (News - Alert) PowerPoint, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and Adobe Acrobat PDF documents. It also sports a very simple-to-use interface: Conferencing functions and tools are easily accessed through a simple toolbar and participants list. From the toolbar, a conference leader controls the presentation and determines what participants see in their conference windows.

With this highly reliable platform, companies can conduct Web tours, demonstrate Web services or leverage online content during presentations. It also allows users to share desktop applications for real-time software demonstrations and application training. With a Web camera installed, presenters can also display live video.

Best of all, the service is completely secure, as all communications are encrypted with 128 bit SSL.

Patrick Barnard is a contributing writer for TMCnet. To read more of Patrick’s articles, please visit his columnist page.





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