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8/24/2007
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Why Pay For a Web Conferencing Tool, When you Can Build Your Own

While working at Novell, I led an initiative of  trying to find a web conference vendor that would help us cut our web conference costs.  I created my RFP (Request For Proposal) and sent it out to many web conference vendors.  When the RFP came back, I was amazed to see how expensive it would be to purchase a web conferencing system for our 5000 person organization.   Not only was the software expensive, but the consulting needed for implementation, training, and support was also very expensive.   The lowest bargain I found was for $200,000, and the most expensive bid was for one million dollars.  $200,000 was truly a remarkable deal compared to the rest of the vendors.  Maintenance and upgrade protection was 15% of the cost: a significant price to pay yearly for the system.  

Since leaving Novell, I have seen how easy it is to build a simple web conferencing tool that will meet the needs of 80% of a team’s requirements.  Several people have built such tools on their own or with a team of two or three developers.  Some examples of people who have built such tools include: 

WebHuddle (http://www.webhuddle.com/) - An open source web conference that was built by John McCaughey.  John built the WebHuddle all by himself.   WebHuddle was built in Java, is cross-platform, and does not require any downloads.  WebHuddle is currently free and its source code is GPL.

Huddle (http://www.huddle.com/) – A flash web conference system developed by an outsourcing company who works for Novell.  A small number of developers, while I was at Novell, started  building Huddle to meet some of Novell’s web conference needs.   Huddle was first used for internal large group presentations and was slowly perfected.   Unfortunately, at the time of the evaluation, the tool was still under development, but it has become a lot better and Huddle has successfully sold monthly subscriptions to small to medium businesses.

AV Chat (www.avchat.net) – A flash based web conferencing tool with Desktop sharing that was built in Romania.  An unlimited license will cost you $299.  AV Chat has desktop sharing: an impressive feature for a flash based system. 

The most impressive of them is Openmeetings (http://code.google.com/p/openmeetings/): a web conference tool Sebastian Wagner built by himself in a few short months that already includes Video, Audio, Whiteboard, Document Importing, Invitations, and Public and Private conference rooms.

1VideoConference (http://www.1videoconference.com/) - A peer-to-peer web conference system that is open source.  They have integrated their product with Asterisk, an open source voice conferencing and PBX system.  A team in India built 1videoconference.  The open source project has 11 developers signup for the project.  

These projects challenge the decision of paying $200,000 to half a million for a web conference system.  It may be a very feasible strategy to use internal developers or outsource development to build a web conference system for your organization.  Just the yearly maintenance cost alone could pay for a team who could manage and improve your own web conference system.  Many of the above mentioned companies and individuals are willing to build such a system for your company.

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