For instance, the cost of WebEx's "pay-per-use" conferencing product is 45¢ per minute per person, plus another 10¢ per minute for the audio conference call. Placeware has a "pay-per-use" product that is 35¢ per minute per person plus the telephone bridge.
Basic event meetings cost $27 per hour per person plus $1,500 for the "Event Production Specialist" that is used to set it up and operate the meeting, plus $600 to $1,500 per event for Registration Services.
So a 100-seat one-hour event starts at $4,800. Their 10-seat product costs $750 per month, not including voice.
So here they are, the true alternatives:
Videoconferencing with collaboration tools
This is an outstanding videoconferencing solution that is Mac and PC compatible. It requires good bandwidth (min 128 Kbps) and it integrates a great presentation facility and an application sharing/remote control facility. While there is no text chat, video and audio quality are absolutely top class. Meetings can hold a maximum of 10 participants. Starts at $199.
Linktivity is one of the pioneer in remote control software and their WebDemo is a very powerful solution that integrates everything from videoconferencing, to Web touring, application sharing, file broadcasting, recording, live annotation and remote control. It requires a server to run on and it is a licensed solution starting at around $ 1,500 (one time) for 5 users.
Formerly RealityFusion, Viditel is a cutting edge videoconferencing solution which integrates instant messaging and application sharing facilities. Excellent video quality and good audio. $ 35/month/person for unlimited meetings.
VoiceCafe has literally developed a collection of Web conferencing and collaboration tools and they all share a common powerful voice over IP module with a number of basic complementary facilities including text chat and a well designed web touring facility. The OfficeMaster is particularly interesting because it integrates in itself the Linktivity WebDemo solution while offering it as a hosted service. Price starts at $75/month for a 5-seat room and unlimited meetings.
Please note that VoiceCafe, which is made up of a network of different small resellers, offers also other products that integrate videoconferencing solutions quite efficiently. As an early entrant into the SOHO Web conferencing market, VoiceCafe has realized very early the need to support video feeds while keeping access and performance acceptable for users on dial-up lines. Their solutions are all very simple and, in my opinion, effective. In many applications, people do not need full motion, 24fps video streams, and are more than happy to have a still of the other participants being updated every few seconds.
There are also a lot more videoconferencing products and services springing up in the market, but for what I have seen, the above are the ones that really cut it. All the others have to do a bit of more homework and refinements before I can judge them effective tools that I would recommend.
Among these are in particular multi-party videoconferencing tools based on the Flash Communication Server. One good example is 3DA Multimedia Virtual Boardroom. While this seems to be a very promising technology for these types of applications, it is still too bandwidth hungry for most applications and the typical delay between video and audio is still not quite acceptable, even on high speed Internet connection lines.
Real-time + asynchronous collaboration
Groove is a revolutionary tool that offers an incredible amount of collaboration modules. Groove works both in real time and asynchronously, letting people collaborate on the same documents even when they are offline. Key strengths are versatility for teamwork, great PowerPoint presentation facility, file sharing, instant messaging, presence awareness, multiple private shared spaces and many other project supporting tools. Groove lacks a quality voice facility, has no video capability and it requires a powerful last generation PC with lots of memory to be run effectively. Starts at $69. Three month preview version freely available.
To learn more about Groove see also:
Classic Web conferencing services
Cata is a Web-based classical conferencing solution that, while not including audio, provides strong presentation, Web touring, whiteboard facilities and polling. Cata is very simple to use and has an effective event management facility to coordinate events and send out invitations. Starts at $39.95/month for 3 people and unlimited meetings.
WebTrain is one of the newest companies to enter the market with a very powerful and unique service. Integrating a great number of facilities and features WebTrain provides everything needed by both training suppliers as well as by marketing entrepreneurs running workshops and Web seminars. The service can be fully integrated in a Web site and it integrates some interesting e-commerce solutions to easily sell online courses and other services. Depending on the hours of use that are pre-purchased cost may range from 16 to 8 cents/per minute/per user.
VoiceCafe is a company that has developed a whole array of web conferencing products. The ClassMaster, Tourmaster both integrate audio, video, text, Web touring, whiteboarding, the possibility to customize the interface with your own logo/brand and a lot more functionalities for very cost effective prices starting at $ 125/month for 5 users and unlimited meetings.
eBLVD has recently revamped its service and it offers a good technology for application sharing and remote control with integrated audio. eBLVD offers also recording of sessions while keeping access and use very simple and easy. Prices start at
$ 59.95/month for 5 users and unlimited meetings.
This is another company that has just completed revamping its service, which was among the few cost effective solutions available until now. The service is now much better, the interface is much easier to use, and along with integrated audio over the Internet, Webconference.com provides solid Web touring, application sharing, remote control, whiteboard, file transfer, text chat and more. Prices tart at $69/month for 5 people and unlimited meetings.
Glance is the golden solution for many companies that simply need to show what is on their screen to others attending from other locations. Glance does not integrate any additional function besides screen sharing and it makes it extremely easy for anyone to use it. Mac viewers are also welcome. Attendees do not need to install anything at all. With one click a session can be started. Glance starts at
$ 49.95/month for unlimited one-to-many meetings.
This is another interesting tool offering outstandingly good voice over IP even over adverse line conditions and with participants on dial-up lines. Voxwire throws in a good text chat facility, Web touring, moderator facilities and a great customer service. Cost starts at $29.95/month for 10 people and unlimited meetings.
Utilizing the same technology as Voxwire are also the ITIGroup and RoomTalk which has been specializing in serving the middle eastern and Arab speaking markets. Prices for these services are very similar.
There is a lot more that I could recommend here but I am listing here a few tools which are quite interesting and unique:
Exceptionally flexible, it integrates a number of very innovative solutions. Integrates an instant messenger and text chat facility. Free.
Well designed one-to-one video conferencing solution with integrated instant messaging, buddy list and text chat.
Probably the most interesting software-based videoconferencing solution to appear in the last six months SightSpeed offers outstanding audio and video for people on high-speed lines. While the service is limited now to PC-based one-to-one meetings it will be shortly expanded to include Macs and to offer multi-party capability. SightSpeed already offers an innovative and impressive toll-free video room that can be integrated in any Web site and providing the ability to greet customers or students with a no-brainer access solution sporting impressive full motion video and audio rivalling hardware-based systems. Prices start at $ 29.95/user/month for unlimited meetings. $ 99.95/month buys unlimited videoconferences and no charges for the other parties connecting with you.
This is a video conferencing tool providing real time audio, real time video, and real time text messages utilizing a peer-to-peer approach.
I have recently done a brief test with Userplane Instant Communicator and have not disliked the results. Based, like a growing number of new conferencing products on Macromedia, the Userplane Instant Communicator allows live instant messaging/text chatting with the support of video and audio in a neatly designed interface. The products works across platforms as it is completely browser-based and it is very simple to install. This is an ideal add-on for communities of practice, associations, groups and clubs working online. Prices start at $250/month for 10 simultaneous users (which would cover probably the needs of communities of even hundreds of users as it is unlikely that more than ten users will be ever communicating concurrently).
A similar product to Userplane Instant Communicator is 3DA Multimedia Quick Help Desk. Based on the same Flash Communication Server technology, the 3DA product is targeted more specifically at CRM, customer service, e-commerce, and technical support situations. 3DA markets also the Virtual Boardroom pictured at the beginning of this article and offering multiparty videoconferencing with maximum ease of use. Prices unavailable.
Consider that CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) has used the Macromedia Flash Communication Server to stream all of the audio and full-screen video for its own trial of CBC Home Delivery, an electronic magazine that delivers rich-media stories to its subscribers every week. Home Delivery is produced by CBC Radio 3 and you can access all of the trial issues archive free.
To get a fresh taste of this Flash-based live communication technology I invite you to pay a visit to the good experimental and prototyping work the great team at BridgeConference in South Africa has been doing with this technology.
Go to their site and having a webcam and microphone connected check out their multiple Flash-based live demo rooms.
You will notice a few things:
a) Use and access is extremely simple. Almost anyone can access this Flash-based rooms with no previous know-how and with a very simple set of instructions can be made to instantly meet and audio-video conference with other people.
b) Video quality is more than acceptable. The better your webcam the better the results.
c) Latency of audio is very noticeable. Though the audio quality is quite good, too much bandwidth gets to be used and the delay between images and sound is very significant. I found this to be typical still of all Flash Communication Server-based solutions.
d) By hovering your mouse on the video windows you can easily freeze your image (and save bandwidth) or turn off your audio. This is very, very useful and as I will prove strategically interesting if you want to combine this tool with other, complementary ones.
So, as you can see, there are indeed a lot of great solutions out there that can save you lots of money while simplifying your life.
Selecting the best tool depends on what you need to accomplish and in my experience, companies use only one or two features for their presentations wasting hundred of dollars in technologies that do a lot more than what they really need.
I have myself tested and prototyped a very cost-effective videoconferencing solution that has no competition in terms of bandwidth, latency of audio (non existent) and overall cost/performance ratio by combining the best features of the Flash Communication Server with the outstanding characteristics and extremely low footprint requirements of one of the VoIP solutions listed above.
It could be customized and branded for anyone small company wanting to bring its offices online while being able to communicate and meet face-to-face with customers and colleagues.
Believe me, people on dial-up have remained more than impressed. But no need to trust me, Mike Bondi of BridgeConference, an independent system integrator or Dennis Gerik of Voxwire will be more than happy to show you what we have been able to put together experimentally.
I was just playing! ;-)
Nonetheless, I have so demonstrated this simple solution to a number of people including Gillian Kerr, Lucas Welch who are both very sensitive to the issues of cost-effectiveness, ease of use and performance. Yesterday I also showcased it again to Dennis Gerik of Voxwire, to whom I suggested to use it immediately to create a new product for its line of excellent cost effective Web conferencing tools.
But if you think you could benefit from a solution lie the one I have described and prototyped above, having great audio, integrating videoconferencing on dial-up at a very cost-effective price do not hesitate a second and head off to try out a number of VoiceCafe products (the first to understand how to best leverage the strengths and weaknesses of the Macromedia Flash Communication Server) which can provide the company clout, assistance, support and help small companies and professionals need.
At last let me mention a handful of new companies and products I have seen appear on the horizon, with some interesting tools and propositions. I look forward to test some of these technologies closer and to report to you which ones stand out to be useful tools:
MeetASAP - http://www.appliedmessaging.com/
Great ideas and slick integration of powerful technologies. I like what I see and look forward to see this great, promising tool make it to the market (still in Beta as I write).
GRCLive - http://www.grclive.com
Just out. All to be tried.
SmileTiger - http://www.smiletiger.com/
iVisit - http://www.ivisit.info
Mac and PC audio and videoconferencing tool.
Wanadu iConference - http://www.wanadu.com/new/site/iconf.html
A lot more to list here, but I really have not enough space to do so.
Consider also that a growing number of enterprise Web conferencing companies are refining their technologies and coming down with prices in a very significant way, to conquer larger slices of the immense small and mid-sized company market.
Look forward in this column for the launch of a new online resource all dedicated to online collaboration and Web conferencing in the coming weeks.
There is so much going on in this area, that I expect not only these tools to become extremely effective in the coming months, but I have a feeling that we will start seeing some powerful collaboration tools and some really unique alternative ideas coming out from some unexpected countries too!
For more info on this topic you can also see:
New Breed Of Collaboration Tools Provides Cost-Effective Alternative To WebEx
Is Quality Voice-over-IP Ready For Prime Time?
I personally publish an online guide (updated daily) in which all of the above (and more) tools are x-rayed and taken apart to see what works and what doesn't in each one.
A free try out allowing you to see how my Online Guide can help you will be available in the next 48 hours. Stay tuned.