The search for good web conferencing

I decided, perhaps rashly, that one way of exposing people to, and training people on, open source software, was by doing web conferencing. I thought it would be a good endeavor to start with. One that could include free webinars, as well as paid training. So, once I decided that, I realized I needed to find the right tools. In my searches for tools that would allow me to start this endeavor, I had several things I wanted:
  • Possibility of showing slides and sharing my Linux and Mac Desktop
  • Audio conferencing (two way)
  • Chat capabilities
  • Clean, professional, bug-free interface
  • Low (or no) infrastructure costs or setup
  • Truly cross platform
  • Inexpensive (but not necessarily free.)
I felt I needed all of these features to make this successful. However, I have realized that it is presently impossible have all of this in one package. I have evaluated a number of options, and every one of them comes up short in one way or another.
  • ReadyTalk - this had been the tool I thought I'd use. It is totally cross-platform, includes audioconferencing, has chat, etc. Its only drawback is that it's not inexpensive. It's $.24 per person/minute for web conferencing, plus $.15 per person/minute for audio is very tough to swallow. Even the unlimited plans (which start at $50/month, or possibly discounted) have pricing for audio, which I hadn' t realized. It was this audio pricing that drove a stake in the heart of my ReadyTalk plan. Note: These rates are not for nonprofit organizations - they are the standard rates. Nonprofits are charged much lower rates (see comment below.) Unfortunately, I don't qualify for those rates.
  • Web Huddle - The only other one I can find that at this time offers the possibility of sharing a Linux desktop. It does, apparently, do audio via VOIP. In my tests it was buggy (some parts of it just didn't work), and the interface was still a bit crude. It is a free service right now, which is good, and the software behind it is open source, which is even better.
  • The others I assessed include DimDim, Yugma, and Adobe Connect. They all are certainly interesting, and DimDim and Yugma are free. (I love that DimDim is using Joomla as their site CMS). They are all cross-platform for participants, but none of these can show Linux desktops, and some (like Adobe in particular) can't even run the presenter software on Linux.
  • I also looked at a system that The Gilbert Center has been using. It's quite interesting, and it deals with the audio over phone issue (which is a major snag) by dispensing with two-way audio entirely, and just using one-way audio. In looking more deeply at it, however, I'd have to do some major technology infrastructure implementation to get it going, which I'm not ready for.
So what's the answer? I don't know. Technologically, ReadyTalk is, well, ready. My wallet, however, is not ready (even if discounted). WebHuddle is not technologically ready, but it may (or may not) end up being what I use for free webinars (either alone, or in combination with freeconference.com.) It is the only one of these options that is both free as in beer, and free as in libre, which is important to me. But it's buggy, and it feels like exposing people who aren't already totally sold on open source to open source using a project that's not ready for primetime is, well, one step forward and two steps back? (And, boy did I just fail the Richard Stallman test!) Perhaps not, I'm not clear. I might try using Yugma on my Mac desktop (I actually haven't tried that yet - I don't know whether it's supported,) because the interface on Yugma is clean and nice, and it seems bug free. But this has also made me re-assess this whole endeavor. Is this what I really want to do? Is there an audience out there? I'm stepping back and thinking a bit more about this.

Comments

Hi Michelle,
Our Social Media Director came across your blog this morning, and passed the link along to me. Here at ReadyTalk, I am the Account Manager who works with our Nonprofit Customers helping them save money increase their efficiency through using our audio and web conferencing services.
In your above comments, you have quoted our standard, list rates for ReadyTalk services. Being that here at ReadyTalk we have a socially conscious Corporate vision, we strive to reach out to the NonProfit sector. That having been said, the list rates above are MUCH higher than those that our Nonprofit customers are charged. Through our Partnership with the National Council of Nonprofit Associations, many nonprofits have access to rates as low as $.06 per person per minute for audio conferencing and $.10 per person per minute for web conferencing. With no contracts, no minimum usage requirements, and no maintenance of set-up fees, hundreds of NonProfits have already found that ReadyTalk is a good fit for them both technologically AND financially. Some organizations who were not already members of NCNA have even joined their State Associations in order to gain access to these rates.
I wasn't able to tell whether you're with a NonProfit organization yourself at this moment, but if you are, I would love to talk to you further about how we might help you.
Have a great day,
Tracey

Hi Tracey,

I will ammend the post to reflect these comments, because you're right - for nonprofit organizations, your rates are relatively reasonable. Problem is, I'm not a nonprofit organization. Wish I were!

Michelle,

Thanks for checking out Yugma. I'm glad you like our interface. We've worked hard to make Yugma really simple. It's something we're proud of. We're also proud that we can offer Yugma Free version completely free forever. I think that should be a huge benefit to all non-profits. And if anyone ever needs the Premium features... we'll our pricing is 80% less than everyone else. So we think it's no-brainer. Please do try Yugma on your Mac. We've designed Yugma to work seamlessly between Mac, Windows and Linux. Also, please be aware that we will be rolling out support for VoIP and "Desktop Sharing from a Linux system" before the end of the year. I've made a note to let you know when the two features (plus other very cool new features) are released into production later this year. I hope that information helps you in your analysis.

One last thing. I would love to share with your readers that we have a very generous Education Progrm underway, weherby we are giving large blocks of Premium accounts to Universities nationwide. If any of your readers are interested to learn more, or to sign up to the program (competely free of charge!), they can read about it at http://www.yugma.com/education .

If you hav any questions or suggestions, we'ld love to hear from you! Feel free to drop us a line at info [at] yugma [dot] com.

Thanks!
Karel Lukas
www.yugma.com

Dear Michelle:

Since you are already using FreeConference.com for the audio portion of your conference, I wanted to alert you to the fact that we are launching in Beta our new SharePlus desktop sharing application in the next couple of days. Now you can combine your free audio and desktop sharing in one place. We've designed this product to provide the basic features that most people need without all the bells and whistles they don't, but end up paying for anyway. I think you will find it satisfies your needs. While in Beta, SharePlus will be free to use. When out of Beta, we anticipate an incredibly low cost of use that together with audio, sets a new standard of value in the conferencing industry. Go to freeconference.com and login to set up a web-scheduled conference with desktop sharing. Thanks!

Hi Michelle,

I have not used video conferencing much, except through commercial products. However, I came across http://gaboogie.com/ recently via a regular technology email news letter to which I subscribe

It seems a nice offering. It is commercial, but it has a kind of pay-as-you-go pricing model.

Unfortunately, I haven't had the need to use it yet, as most of the conferences I attend online are sponsored by my clients. As such, I don't know if it addresses your Mac and Linux OS needs.

But, it may be an option worth looking into.

Cheers,

Wayne

@ Nancy,
Wow, I'm really concerned with your news. I'm a screensharing
company using you guys for the audio conference piece. You are now becoming
my competitor? Not good. I'm going to switch to someone else ASAP. Who decided on this?
You're going to tick off allot of others like me.
Ciao!

Robert,

I obviously can't speak for Freeconference.com, but it makes perfect sense to me for them to broaden their offering into the screensharing space. It might tick other vendors off, but I can say that if they actually manage to put together a great screensharing app along with their audioconference service, then a lot of people will for sure use it. I would imagine from their point of view, there is nothing to lose.

Which screensharing company are you?

Nancy,

What *I* want to know is whether this screensharing application will share Linux and Mac desktops!

I have gone through this process many times and it all depends on several factors including where your audience is, what the technology infrastructure is, your budget and the mission-critical features you need. I've tried out most of those listed as well and they all have their pros and cons. I can tell you that there are many more options too.

For instance, a client of mine recently decided to use Persony for web conferencing, combined with a telephony bridge for audio. We chose Persony because it had one of the simplest interfaces and had a one-time fee. In our case that was $299.

It's not about the technology, but the technology can make your life miserable ;-)

Drop me a note if you ever want to discuss this in more detail.

Hello Michelle,

I am Sundar, a co-founder of Dimdim (Friendly open source webmeeting). I understand from your post that one the issues you faced while using Dimdim was the inability to show Linux desktops. I would love to talk with you and get your feedback and thoughts on Dimdim. This will help us make Dimdim better. Can we please have a conversation? my email is sundar(@)dimdim.com

Regards,
~sundar

Michelle- Shawn Murry from ReadyTalk here. Interesting post, thanks for clarifying our list rates vs. NP rates.

I should mention that ReadyTalk has been the official webinar provider and sponsor for NTEN http://nten.org/events/webinar for the last few years...congrats on your recent appointment to the NTEN board, btw. We offer special NTEN rates for any memebers out there.

I'm very involved in the sector and understand that the average NPO needs a vendor/product that works, doesn't waste funds, and, most importantly, doesnt create any additional work. Yes, Freeconferencecall and open source screensharing options are good for some orgs-- but sometimes "duct taping" together different solutions ends up costing more time/money than a true integrated audio/web solution.

Keep up the good work...

Hi Michelle,
I just stumbled upon your blog. Since I myself also developing a web conferencing service, your insight was very helpful. We recently launched a Flash based free video conferencing service called “PalBee.com” (http://www.palbee.com)
It provides unlimited number of free ONE hour conferencing session for up to 4 attendees. We support all video & audio with whiteboard for sharing images and power point slides. While we provide the service free for only 5 people, we also provide free recording option. Every time you record the meeting, the recordings will be stored in your “MyPage.”
You are not only able to re-play them but also embed the meeting on your blogs, wikis or other social media sites. You can share the recorded webinars as you do with YouTube. Thus, you can use Palbee for small group video meetings but also, you can use it for presentation, teaching, or any other information delivery. I think instructor’s video with whiteboard format is a good format for knowledge sharing.

Let me know if you come across any trouble while using Plabee.com.
Thanks

Regards,

Albert

P.S. At the moment, we don't have desktop sharing :-)

[...] willing to look for it, there still is an entrepreneurial element to the world of Web conferencing. This commentary at Zen and the Art of Nonprofit Technology looks at the selection of a service from the users’ point of view. Michelle Murrain decided, [...]

Have you tried elluminate (http://www.elluminate.com/vroom/)

I have also been looking for a web-conferencing application with similar criteria to yourself. elluminate/vroom is free, cross-platform (i have verified this on Windows, Mac & Linux), does live audio and video etc. in fact, cutting and pasting from their website they offer:
* Two-way audio
* Interactive whiteboard
* Direct messaging
* Application sharing
* File transfer
* Synchronized web tour
* Live webcam
* Breakout rooms

The only problem I encountered is that video transmission is only supported for Windows and Mac - not Linux/Unix. If you are on a Linux/Unix box, you can see video from others, but you can't transmit your own. Audio works fine for all platforms.

The other potential problem for some users is that the free version limits the number of web-conference participants to 3.

it's easy to set up. you then email the other conference attendees a weblink. they don't have to download anything (it's java-based) and it should pop-up the conference room no probs. that said, because this conference tool offers so many features, i can imagine some users would feel overwhelmed. as a conference moderator, i would prepare a short document to send first-time users that guides them through some important steps (e.g. controlling audio etc). elluminate has some nice little quick reference guides at http://www.elluminate.com/support/training/

FYI: i just heard from Yugma that they anticipate launching desktop sharing on Linux in December 2007.

Hi guys. Is there a way to integrate video conference capability into a Joomla website? I'd like it for a portal we're making for school. I have chat and private messaging for the users already and video calls are all that's needed.

Hope you can help me out! thanks!

[...] online courses in the use of open source software. That was one of the big reasons I had been looking for good web conferencing a while back (I’m still [...]

[...] should probably check Michelle Murain’s references again, and double check to see if there’s an Idealware note or more recent info at TechSoup. [...]

A completely different approach is the On-Premise appliance offered by RHUB. The TurboMeeting appliance plugs into your network -- you own and control it. It allows 4 different meeting types; interactive, seminar, remote support, remote access to a PC. If also features a cool mode that allows the user to join with just a browser -- no download. Even iPhones can join this way (I tried it on an iPhone and it worked well).
Check out the appliance at http://www.rhubcom.com

[...] in August, I did a review of web conferencing tools, with a decidedly unusual slant - as a presenter, I had to be able to [...]

The best resource on the web for finding the right web conferencing vendor, solution, or product is the annual product reviews and Top Ten list from the Web Conferencing Council. This free report is found on their site at HTTP://www.webconferencingcouncil.com. This year's best of class award went to VIA3 from http://www.viack.com, followed by GoToMeeting and WebEx.

Thanks for the blog and insight. I would check out www.oovoo.com. Not sure on the platforms, and it is a little buggy. If i is not ready now, I think it could be in a short while. Suerte!

I would have liked to see how you feel Proxy Networks' offerings stacks up against these other products. I have been using it for years and have never been tempted to even look elsewhere. Still, I always like to know what the competition is up to...

Have you checked out PresentAll - web video conferencing service?

Drop by http://presentall.com/about/overview/ for more info. Or feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

wbr, Vad
PresentAll Team