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10/23/2006
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Melanie Turek
Melanie Turek
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Web Conferencing Questions?Who's Got Answers?

Last week I posted some of Frost & Sullivan’s most recent research findings on the web conferencing market. There’s lots of good stuff in the research, and plenty of interesting trends and market forecasts to keep people thinking about it for a while. But even as I study the web conferencing market, the following questions nag at me.

How will IT managers decide which web conferencing technology to deploy as part of their unified communications efforts? This is not a trivial question. More and more vendors in the general communications arena are partnering with other vendors in the space, but those partnerships are creating buyer confusion. For instance, Cisco has announced its latest support for Lotus Sametime, in which users can launch a Cisco MeetingPlace audio call and a Sametime web conference. That’s nice (Lotus needs to catch up with Microsoft when it comes to audio/telephony integration) but it begs the question: Why wouldn’t those users also launch a MeetingPlace web conference, rather than a Sametime one? Obviously, the answer is "personal" choice (where "personal" really refers to the IT department, not the end user), but you can see where things will get confusing fast. The likely end result is a mish-mash of vendors and products that all have to work together to truly serve users well.

Why do I still have to download anything to make a web conference work? Just the other day, I went to participate in a web conference and I couldn’t get in because my “new” corporate PC didn’t have Java. It wasn’t an unsolvable problem, and it didn’t take long to fix—but I did spend a couple minutes trying futilely to get in, another few minutes on the phone with tech support, and at least another five minutes downloading Java from the web and rebooting the conference—all of which caused me to miss the first 10 minutes of the presentation (not to mention feel a little foolish). But what if my IT department had locked down my PC and didn’t allow me to download programs from the web? What if those first 10 minutes of the meeting were mission critical? This problem will only get worse as more people use Web conferences across enterprises on an ad-hoc basis. The answer? Web-based programs that don’t require anything other than a browser on my machine, and anything more than a password/ID from me to get in.

Why do unified communications vendors still routinely send me Powerpoint files via e-mail, rather than push them to me in a conference session? To be fair, this rarely happens with web conferencing vendors anymore (though it’s not unheard of). But it’s almost routine for other vendors in the space—many of whom have a perfectly good, home-grown web conferencing product at their disposal—to update me on their products the old-fashioned way: By e-mailing me a Powerpoint presentation in advance of our call, then leading me through it verbally. That said, I do frequently ask for the PPT file after I’ve attended a meeting, so I have it for future reference, and today, everyone has to send me that deck via e-mail after the event. How nice would it be if I could simply click on a link from within the conference to download the presentation right on the spot?

Please feel free to weigh in on these questions about web conferencing, and add your own.

  

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