Cost-effective Basic Online Virtual Classroom Facility
Cata Virtual Meeting Rooms
= worth knowing
Online Service (Win only)
USD $ 39/month
Cata is a well rounded, stable and extremely easy to use web conferencing tool.
A drawback in selecting Cata as your web conferencing tool of choice, is that Cata does not offer integrated audio facilities such as VoIP (Voice over IP). Though I understand the concern of web conferencing companies like Cata in adopting a solution (VoIP) that is yet to become fully mature and that excludes most of those who do not have at least a reliable and solid 28.8 Kbps dial-up connection to the Internet, I regret that since low-bandwidth effective VoIP technology solutions are indeed available nowadays, these companies have not yet awakened to properly research, identify and integrate them in their present web conferencing systems.
Though I suspect this will not be for long, one of the key battles for market share in this niche is being played now thanks indeed to the tools and technologies that indeed allow some good integration of audio and when possible video, to their web conferencing and live presentation offerings.
Therefore not to integrate, at least as an option audio over the Internet in this type of tools while forcing users to integrating expensive phone-based conferencing solutions, does not seem to be add any value or guarantee a more effective system to potential customers.
The only other critique I may have with this product is that it requires me to disable my Java Plug-in in order to properly function. It likes the Microsoft Java Virtual Machine but not the Sun one. It is therefore important to take into consideration this aspect when preparing an online event that utilizes this technology. Your audiences and attendees will need to also check and apply any required configuration step before attending an online meeting delivered through Cata Virtual Meeting Rooms. Happily a System Test Wizard is available to test users systems before accessing any online meeting. Just make sure they are properly alerted of this and directed to it before you run your online show.
Cata has a simple administrative interface online which can be accessed through any normal web browser. From the admin control panel you can create meetings, invite participants and set other general preferences for classes, session or meetings you want to conduct online.
Once in a meeting, there can be only one moderator/presenter at a time, with the ability to control the following key facilities:
a) Application Sharing
b) Polling (yes/no answers or multiple choice)
c) PowerPoint Presentation
d) URL Sharing
e) A basic chat facility is also available and it can be configured to work either in the standard way or in a so-called "Q&A" mode. The presenter can enable or disable the chat facility at will.
Application Sharing is very effective and reliable under Cata and it can be used for a great number of uses including co-surfing.
A handy feature under the Properties menu gives control over the time interval between each screen "refresh" and update to all meeting participants. Even at its fastest setting (1") performance is more than acceptable even on dialup lines.
To activate application Sharing in Cata, after having clicked on the App Sharing button, you select from a dialog box containing a list of the applications presently open on your PC the one you want to share with your meeting participants.
The polling feature has a very simple and rudimentary interface but it is indeed very useful and effective.
Cata has on the other hand no "Raise Hand" or Vote facility for the participants. This is useful when you need to ask all of the audience to respond globally on an issue, like: "How many of you have already done such and such?". But the polling feature comes in handy just for this very function as that question can be posed in a way to entice also a yes/no answer.
In a Cata poll, once participants have clicked on the appropriate choice you can immediately display a graph giving an immediate overview of how many said "yes" and how many said "no". Invaluably useful in most presentations and classes.
The same facility supports also creation and delivery of "Multiple Choice" questions where you can immediately show percentages of answers across the offered choices in an immediately displayable graph.
The PowerPoint Presentation facility of Cata makes life extremely easy for most non-technical trainers and presenters at some expense of the final quality displayed.
Cata allows in fact the presenter to upload one or more .PPT files to the Cata server and it automatically and transparently converts this presentation slides in jpeg images which are much lighter to broadcast. As a matter of fact Cata allows you to upload directly .jpg or .gif files in order to provide presenters with the ability to directly control the quality of their presentation slides and not being forced to depend on Cata's automatic conversion facility. The only apparent problem with this "advanced option" of direct uploading is that you have to load each slide of your presentation independently and that each is treated as a separate presentation.
The automatic uploading and conversion process for Powerpoint presentations is though very simple and straightforward and it can be a great timesaver when you are in a rush or have too little time for preparation to deliver an online presentation.
Once your presentation is up, you can recall it at any time during a live presentation along with any other previously uploaded Powerpoint. By accessing the Slides List function you get access to a list of presentations available, and as you select a specific one, a list of all the slides within it is displayed in another small dialog box. This is quite useful as you can then access directly and with extreme ease any slide in the presentation.
I have noticed that by pre-viewing all of the slides in the presentation before the show, display performance (time to load on-screen) of these same slides is significantly enhanced during my actual online delivery.
A great and well thought out feature that is integrated across all of Cata other functionalities is the annotation tools.
These are made up of a small set of graphic tools displayed on an horizontal toolbar on the upper left part of the Cata interface. Through these annotation tools it is possible to highlight, draw circles, rectangles and use a large special pointer to draw attention and focus of participants to specific parts of your display. While the annotation tools are indeed very simple and almost primitive this does not detract from the effective benefit of using them to emphasize, highlight and focus elements or parts of any application, software tool, presentation or web site being showcased online through Cata.
The URL Sharing facility allows the presenter to send a selected web page to all meeting participants. After that, each participant can engage directly with the web site and interact with it directly. This feature is particularly useful for allowing participants to fill out forms, carry out personal searches and assignments or to respond to a questionnaire or test.
It is difficult to note when participants need to have your attention as they have little or no means to do so. If you are completely taken by the excitement of your presentation you may easily overlook the small chat box and the attempts by participants to ask questions or to repeat a certain point.
Control of a meeting can be handed over by the presenter to anyone among the participants through a simple click of the mouse. Control can be regained by the moderator in a very simple way.
What I liked the most about Cata is the simplicity of its use and the reliability of its tools.
Add to all this a particularly favourable pricing scheme providing for USD $ 39/month for unlimited meetings of up to 50 users, makes a Cata a very interesting proposition for those than can easily handle the audio portion of their presentation through an audio conferencing service of their choice.
For US and Canadian customers Cata has already developed strong partnerships with audio conferencing providers at very competitive rates. For international customers like me, it is up to us to identify the best audio complement for this valuable service.
The strength of Cata is in its simplicity and robustness.
Private or online public demos can be set with Cata staff but no official trial or demo version is available to potential customers.
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