The Future Of Web Conferencing: Good Interviews Dennis Gerik
Virtually in front of me this time is Dennis Gerik, the Chief Operating Officer of Voxwire a small Web conferencing company which has been setting the record straight for outstanding Voice-over-IP technology complemented by basic conferencing facilities (Web touring, text chat, file sending, etc.) at a very hard-to-beat price.
Voxwire, like several other small Web conferencing vendors enjoy some good results and the benefits of a growing market but like most in this sector it hasn't been able to make its outstanding technology self-market itself as it had dreamed to. The reasons can be generally found from my point of view in the marketing strategy approach utilized (too eager to capitalize early and fast) and probably in the interface and usability issues of anyone of these tools.
Nonetheless the above, Dennis Gerik provides some interesting answers to my questions, and some very valuable pointers to new Web conferencing technologies and tools. He shows also that by not focussing only on his company he can beautifully leverage the extra trust, prestige and credibility that any passionate reader will award him after reading the interview below.
Robin Good: What kind of tools do you think we will see in a year from now? And in three?
Dennis Gerik: I think we will see several more "conferencing" tools come to the market over the next year... It seems that everyone is trying to get into this marketplace with the next "hottest" thing. However, I believe many will come and go in a flash, as they simple have not taken the time to really understand the customer's needs nor what it really means to offer this type of service.
In 3 years, as broadband Internet services become more widespread, we will see good, reliable and affordable Web conferencing tools become commonplace in the market. We should begin to see companies that completely integrate "voice over internet" technologies into their products. Plus, we should see tools that make conferencing as easy to use as the various IM tools are today.
At the same time, I believe there will be some contraction amongst the major players offering these services. Most will continue to cater to the enterprise-level customer, but there will be a few players, such as Voxwire, that will continue offering solid, reliable and affordable solutions to the SOHO marketplace. It is these companies that will be in the best position to make web conferencing more "common place" and accepted within the "mass market".
Robin Good: What do you think is the most misunderstood concept about online collaboration? (That one thing that if done differently would radically change the way think of Web conferencing or real-time collaboration online.)
Dennis Gerik: I think the "most misunderstood concept" is that "Voice Over Internet" cannot be very reliable for business-oriented meetings. We have proven on numerous occasions that Voice can be delivered consistently and reliable to 100s, if not 1000s, of participants at a time, with quality that rivals the best teleconferencing services.
I think the "2nd most misunderstood concept" is that "Web conferencing" is generally too difficult and too expensive for the small to average company (fewer than 100 employees) to utilize. Once again, we, amongst other companies, such as those featured in your excellent SOHO Guide, have proven that "Web conferencing" can be indeed offered at EXTREMELY affordable prices. Therefore, you do not need to be a large enterprise with a large budget to take advantage of these cost-saving tools.
Robin Good: In which ways are the SOHO and "enterprise" markets substantially different when it comes to Web conferencing, live presentations and real-time collaboration?
Dennis Gerik: Now, you are touching on one of my "pet peeves"... I think the main way the "enterprise" market and the SOHO market are substantially different is related to how much we expect organizations to pay these services. There are some Web conferencing companies that strictly cater to the "enterprise" customer, because quite frankly they expect these companies to pay MORE money.
However, the real needs of each type of customer are really not that different. Enterprise and SOHO customer, alike, expect to conduct easy-to-use and reliable meetings online. They, both, expect this technology to be simple and easy for both presenters and guests. However, the SOHO customer simply expects to pay substantial less than the enterprise customer.
So, I think companies like ours have to come in and offer solutions that will fit the majority of the SOHO markets needs. Most SOHO users simply do not need nor want all the "bells and whistles" that are found within many of the enterprise-level products. They want tools that make it affordable and easy to communicate with the customers more cost-effectively than having to rely on "face-to-face" meeting or long distance communication. As business continues to expand across geographic borders, these tools will become even more important.
Robin Good: Why companies having 100,000 or 10,000,000 collaboration tools out in the market (instant messengers) have not been able to capitalize on their reach, while comparatively small firms in the enterprise market have been able to repeatedly scout the best margins in the industry?
Dennis Gerik: I think it is simply a matter of "focus"... I think the companies you are referring to with "100,000 or 10,000,000 collaboration tools", are the companies offering the various Instant Messaging platforms. If so, these companies started during a time in the life of the Internet, where companies simply gave away their product in hopes that advertising revenue would sustain them. Unfortunately, these same companies have gotten people so accustomed to receiving their tools for free, that it is very difficult to convert them to paying customers.
Conversely, the companies that are now offering "conferencing" solutions, were started from the beginning based on a "paid for" revenue model. I believe this was done more out of survival...as we all need CASH quickly to simply survive. Plus, this is a more expected and proven business model.
Robin Good: What do you think it would be the ideal business model of the future when it comes to real-time collaboration? And which one do you think will prevail?
Dennis Gerik: I think the ideal business model of the future will most like see our type of services bundled within either the operating system or the office applications that we are normally comfortable with. We are already starting to see this emerge with Microsoft's recent acquisition of Placeware. It should not be long before we seen MS start to integrate those tools into their Office Suite.
But like all things, we should also see some "specialty" companies continue to offer solutions outside of the above model... These companies will have very strong "niche followings"...as their offers will be tailored and specialized for different type of customers.
Robin Good: Can you name three Web conferencing or real-time collaboration tools that you have used and that you think are truly outstanding?
Dennis Gerik: I take it you are talking about in addition to our own services at Voxwire.com, I presume... As I would have to say I am biased when it comes to this type of question... But beyond our offering, I would have to say that I have been impressed by the offering from these three companies.
1) Glance Networks...I think they have found the "right way" to make "VNC" easy to use for the average, common user. I love their simplicity and ease-of-use.
2) PresentationPro...This company has found a niche market in helping people show PowerPoint presentations from the Web that is easy and somewhat affordable. Their prices may be a bit high for the average user, but if showing PowerPoint presentations is critical to your business, you owe it to yourself to give them a look.
3) SmileTiger Conferencing...Now this company is potentially a direct competitor to us here at Voxwire, but we have looked at their technology and I have to say I am quite impressed. It is very feature rich and relatively easy-to-use. If they can improve their marketing focus and their customer support, this might be someone to watch in the near future.
Robin Good: Who do you think has got the best shot at developing a technology close to what we really need?
Dennis Gerik: Probably someone that is not even in the marketplace right now... They are sitting in a university somewhere looking at all the current services and trying to decide how to make them better...
But if you are asking who has the best shot from the current players, well, I would have to say Microsoft, hands down... They have the abundant supply of money and resources to do pretty much anything they want... But this is only if they can take time to stop and fully understand what the marketplace is REALLY wanting.
However, I am still going to put my bet on a newcomer stealing this thunder. I hope I find that person and can get them involved with Voxwire... :-)
Robin Good: This is not a rhetoric question nor a marketing hook. If you were to study, research or find out more about alternatives to "enterprise" technologies for Web collaboration to which resources or contacts would you turn to?
Dennis Gerik: Well, definitely one source is your SOHO Web Conferencing Guide. It is by far one of the most thorough guides on this subject. But you specifically asked about "enterprise technologies"... Hmmm, there is a new book out called "The Web Conferencing Book" by Sue Spielman, Liz Winfeld. I would probably start there...
Robin Good: How are the large enterprises and corporations changing with the growing adoption of these new collaboration tools?
Dennis Gerik: I think enterprises and business, in general, is changing with the adoption of conferencing solutions...simply because it offers easy options "to make the world a smaller place".
Conferencing allows companies and groups to "get together without having to be together". This simply was not possible even just a couple of years ago. Conferencing solutions like ours, even allow people a completely acceptable and reliable alternative to long distance communication. We are starting to see people expand their businesses beyond their traditional geographic borders and Web Conferencing is making this possible.
Robin Good: What do you think is the greatest obstacle to standardization and interoperability of these collaboration tools?
Dennis Gerik: I think the greatest obstacle to complete standardization is having a cost-effective and reliable cross-platform development option for creating these tools. Right now, the majority of tools that are being produced, including our own, are only available for the MS Windows-platform. This simple fact, cuts out a substantial amount of users and this problem will continue to increase with the proliferation of Linux and other open-source systems. So, until we can have a cost-effective and reliable cross-platform development option, we will continue to see less than "general" acceptance of these services.
Robin Good: Can you describe your ideal dream conferencing/collaboration system in its main characteristics?
Dennis Gerik: Ahhh... Here's a fun question for me... My ideal "Web conferencing" solution would include the following components...
a) A Synchronized Co-Browser that will allow easy Web tours to all Web-based content...including navigation through forms and secured Web pages, plus the ability to maintain the audience's focus from a long Web page by integrating synchronized scrolling.
b) Within this Co-Browser, the Presenter would have the ability to "show" any document that is currently on their own PCs, without the need to upload to a central server. This will be excellent for showing PowerPoint presentations and other Office-type documents.
c) This Co-Browser would have complete annotation tools for both the presenter or their guests to use. It is important to be able to draw attention to items that appear on the screen. This can be done in a simple "lay-over" fashion, where highlights, boxes, and text can be dynamically added on top of the current view.
d) Stable and reliable "Voice over Internet" communication between all participants. Ideally, this will be in a full-duplex fashion, but for the time being, having one person speak at a time, does allow definitely more control. As broadband internet access becomes more widespread, this could begin to move towards "Video/Voice over Internet" but this is not going to happen anytime in the very near future...
e) Easy-to-use Instant Text-Chat capabilities, mainly used by those people without microphones or simply as an additional mode of communication.
f) Full Moderator/Presenter controls, including the ability to terminate connections for disrupting parties, mute capabilities and full service polling and survey features.
g) Complete session recording and playback capabilities. This is important for archival purposes, plus it is useful for people that may have missed the original meeting.
h) A reliable Remote Desktop Control with Application Sharing. This will create a truly collaborative environment, which will allow people from anywhere in the world to come together within an online meeting and actively and easily work together on documents, as easily as sitting in a traditional conference room.
Thank you Robin for allowing me the opportunity to answer some of your questions... It was truly an honor. I believe that Web Conferencing is at a VERY exciting time. Things are only going to improve with these tools and the future definitely looks bright.
Thank you for being always an impartial critic, counselor and advisor to us. Thank you also for providing such a valuable forum for people to come and learn about all these exciting and wonderful tools...
Dennis Gerik is the COO of Voxwire a Web conferencing company operating since 2002 in the SOHO market. Mr. Gerik is alsos an active industry researcher and tester of the many new technologies surfacing every year. He coordinates customer support, marketing, sales and all of the technical infrastructure of his company.
You can contact Dennis Gerik at:
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