Recently, there seems to be both a surge in interest and a surge in options for tools that will help you conduct online demos, seminars, and the like. These tools generally let you show your desktop applications and/or slides via the internet, so that people can see shared visuals. Many also facilitate audio conferencing, either via a separate conference call line or via VOIP (i.e. audio over the computer, so participants can hear the sound through their computer speakers, but need a computer microphone or headset to be heard).
The market is a bit unusual, and changing quickly as the technology involved becomes less costly and cutting edge. We did our own research for what tool we should use for our online seminars, and I’ve also been following people’s struggles (for instance, see posts from Deborah Finn
and Michelle Murrain
). We haven’t done rigorous research in this area, but here’s a bit about what I’ve learned about this market.
There’s the traditional realm of business e-Conferencing and distance learning, with sophisticated and expensive tools like WebEx
, Adobe Connect
, and Elluminate
– these are feature-rich, but are priced outside the realm of most nonprofits getting into the field. Prices obviously vary depending on your volume, but these seem to run in the $750- $1000+ per month realm, or $0.30-$0.40+ per person per minute.
Then there’s kind of a middle market. From my research, ReadyTalk
seem like the main contenders in this space. These are fairly well established and stable (the GoTos are in fact owned by Citrix), and cost in the realm of $0.20 per person per minute or $300 or so per month.
And then there’s the quickly expanding small-but-scrappy market. Some of the ones in this market include DimDim
, Yugma, Web Huddle
, and BizConference.com
. These tools are considerably cheaper (some are free for small conferences), but are all very new, mostly feel quite techie for all involved, and some were quite buggy. In general, for our stuff, I wasn’t comfortable depending on these lower end tools to provide a good experience for our participants, but I’m really interested to see where these go. I suspect that in a year or so some of these tools will either overtake some of the ones above, or force the whole market down in price.
The tools did vary quite a bit in pricing and features. Here’s what I found most useful to evaluate
- What’s the cost for web conferencing? Audio conferencing? Audio rates are frequently not included in what’s called “web conferencing”, which I found confusing. Note that you can always use a free conference call service like FreeConferenceCall.com in conjunction with your web conferencing, if you don’t care about providing a toll-free number for participants or integrated recording.
- What kind of download will participants need? How friendly is the download when the participant is behind a firewall? What browsers are supported?
- What kind of computer is needed for desktop sharing? Many tools require those who show their desktop to be using Windows and/or a PC.
- What interactive tools are available? Integrated chat is quite common; polling features or ability to break out into discussion groups are less so
- Do you need to be able to record audio and visuals in a synched up package? This is hard to find. And consider what format the recording takes.
In the end, we chose ReadyTalk for our seminars. I didn’t do enough research to say this is the very best for our needs, but it’s very solid, reliable, and easy for participants, which were important for us. It also supports desktop sharing from a Mac, and integrated recording, which were additional needs. There’s no question we could find something cheaper, but both the integrated recording and the fact that we know it to be reliable and easy for participants made it worthwhile to us to pay more.