Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Thursday, September 18, 2003

How Do I Select Web Conferencing Tools?

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Many of the people that get a complimentary access or that want to review my Online SOHO Guide to Web Conferencing and Live Presentation Tools are surprised to find products like Groove among my reviewed tools and even among my recommended Best Buys.


So, the question that follows is always about what I really consider being SOHO and which are the selection criteria that I use to include new products and services in my Official Online Guide.

SOHO to me is not just Small Office - Home Office. It entails and hints to a larger number of attitudes and ethics which are also well reflected in my Robin Good role:

  • Do less with more.

  • Be smart.

  • Question the established tools.

  • Find new, alternative ways.

  • Be extremely efficient and cost-effective.

  • Use corporate tools and experience as a Formula One testing ground. (While corporates can have and pay for the Ferraris we like good Toyotas that give a run for the money - many times over - to the Ferraris, when competition is on non-racing grounds.

  • Try-out, test, verify. Do shopping comparison. Hear what others have to say. Look at user reviews and comments. Check out company forums (if they have one).

  • Never buy into marketing hype.

  • Beware of overzealous demonstrators and marketing reps. Go for the facts.

  • Breath Cluetrain spirit and seek Cluetrain inspired partners and suppliers.
  • See business as an international activity. Not a North-American-owned one.
  • Therefore, if those above are the flags that my readers like to wave, it is essential that I go after new tools with these attitudes and expectations very clear in mind.

    These are not purchasing departments of large organizations or multinational corporations. These are individuals, professionals, maybe also within some large companies, but ALL interested, out of their own knowledge thirst, to find out what really work best with the most effective costs.

    There are not many such people in such large organizations.

    Too frequently than not choices are made toward large, inefficient and often very expensive systems because the providers of these systems are greatly equipped to deal with these large companies and their peculiar needs for large contracts, assistance and support. It is a business around a tool. Not a tool being used for business.

    Those who like to buy and read what I write in the Online Guide are those that like to hear and find out how things really are outside of the corporate cloud. Distracted by stock interests, merger, acquisitions and measuring their profit margin at the end of each quarter does not allow most of these Web conferencing companies much space to dwell on really creating outstanding and cost-effective collaboration tools.

    a) Creating outstanding tools is not something they can do. Most of the key "enterprise" vendors have taken a "speed-to-market" approach to realize their key business goal. In this light, many of them have just bought and licensed existing tools and software applications which integrated together have given birth to the enterprise tools you see today.

    They are not the fruit of a man or a team with a vision. They were the fruit of a "business operation".

    b) Cost-effectiveness is logically seen as an enemy. The reasoning goes that if a Web conferencing tool can be made to cost so much less there is not going to be much margin to be enjoyed and not much to pay for all those big corporate offices and suites. So cost-effective tools are not in the "interest" of many large companies.

    So which are the criteria that make a Web conferencing, a live collaboration or presentation tool make it into my elected realm of devastatingly effective tools?

    Here my small list of selection criteria:

    1) Must be a great tool. It must allow me to do some work effectively and it must make want to show others how effective it is to use such tool. Mediocre tools that can do just about everything are just about everywhere. I want only the best. I want people to say "Wow, I didn't think this was possible today! - And at this price!!".

    I look for solutions: if they are free, my customers like me more.

    2) Must be affordable. By an individual, professional, by a small company, NGO or non-profit.

    None of these will ever spend more than $ 50-70/month for such a tool if it is to be used to augment communications. For those that make an actual business out of it, higher rates maybe charged.

    Generally, Web conferencing tools that charge per seat/per minute rates are the ones that I don't even consider looking at. Those that offer a one-time license (Groove, Session, WebDemo) or flat monthly fees for unlimited sessions while at worst limiting the number of concurrent participants to different price levels (Voxwire, Orbitalk, VoiceCafe, etc.) are my favourite ones.

    3) Must offer a try-out. If I can't try it I certainly cannot write an honest review of what I think of it.

    If they want to give me an online demo under their careful guidance I say "No thanks". If a tool does what it says it does there is no need to hide it.

    Customer support and marketing reps keeping try-outs out of public hands while bragging about pedagogical theories that support the need for users to be guided step-by-step in using new tools are the equivalent of saying that these tools are yet not good enough to be intuitively used or put to work right out of their boxes. Period.

    Companies boasting their integrity and unwillingness to give out freebies to people who would take advantage of such free try-outs have not yet understood what marketing is really all about.

    If I have something great, I show it.
    If I have something difficult, with a few bugs and some hard-to-find commands I will provide plenty of online demos, tutorials and guides. Be sure.

    What do you think?

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    posted by Robin Good on Thursday, September 18 2003, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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