The Future Of Web Conferencing: Good Interviews Dina Mehta
I really enjoyed interviewing Dina Mehta on the Future Of Web Conferencing as Dina is not a CEO or technology wizard of anyone new start-up. Dina Mehta is an expert in marketing research and in the use of new media communications technologies to augment the knowledge management abilities of any organization.
Dina is also a skilled researcher and a valuable independent reporter. writer, and you can enjoy much of her great abilities to summarize, synthesize and review in her rich and fascinating weblog: Conversations With Dina.
Dina writes daily about blogs, enterprise communications, disruptive technologies, social software, online collaboration, knowledge management and much more. You can breathe out of her page the curiosity and sheer passion for exploration and learning she has been cultivating.
Though not a technologist, Dina enjoys using new media tools and has not been scared in exposing herself to any new opportunity to discover what the future of real-time collaboration may have in store. A heavy user of Yahoo Messenger, Groove and Skype, she can't get away from being a Keely resonator of the challenging memes taking off in the noosphere.
I have particularly liked this interview because Dina, as a non-technical user with great intellectual capacities, brings in a refreshing flock of answers, pointing at sociological and organizational management factors more than at features and specifications.
Dina understands fully that leveraging the interconnectedness of intelligent individuals is as powerful a mantra as socio-political and organizational management thoughts can get. Ivan Illich wrote on this argument over 30 years ago:
"This reorientation toward personal surprise rather than institutionally engineered value will be disruptive of the established order until we dissociate the increasing availability of technological tools which facilitate encounter from the increasing control of the technocrat of what happens when people meet.Knowledge management at its best.
...The relational structures we need are those which will enable each man to define himself by learning and by contributing to the learning of others."
Please sit down with me and enjoy this fascinating conversation with Dina:She is truly a communication explorer.
Robin Good: What do you think is the most misunderstood concept about online collaboration and how it should be like? (That one thing that if done differently would radically change the way think of Web conferencing or real-time collaboration online.)
Dina Mehta: Am going to stretch this one to a broader issue of culture within an organisation that perhaps does not foster the right environment needed for adoption of technologies for real time collaboration online........
At a conceptual level - in my opinion, companies, groups or individuals that shy away from real-time online collaboration are those that have not really understood the real value of working together in groups that foster the harnessing of collective intelligence within and outside the group in trusted environments. Or believing in a system that helps users experience, welcome, and embed, within themselves or their organisations, flow.
Knowledge workers seem to be talking a lot about these issues - yet not many companies seem to be really grokking it.
Perhaps knowledge workers and innovators in this area need to demonstrate, in tangible manners how real-time collaboration online can in fact increase efficiencies and productivity and bottom line - by saving time and cost of both online and offline communication.
An example here - asynchronous emails (most companies at least here in India still rely on this) with thousands of cc's and no shared workspace for collaboratory endeavours or threaded commentary. Or telephone calls or conference calls that are so expensive - or conferences that are held offline.
Software vendors on the other hand seem to overawe some corporates with their tech expertise.
In my opinion - someone with a sound understanding of the business and culture of the organisation, someone who can then work to harness the shared latent intelligence in the organisation, along with the ability to recommend or provide software solutions - would perhaps be in a position to really counter barriers that companies may have in adopting these technologies.
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?
Dina Mehta: I think SOHO's can be and are much more flexible and open to adopting such tools if they're at affordable prices - and they possibly are open source.
The key features they would look for are:
1) audio conferencing
2) video conferencing (preferred but not absolutely necessary),
3) other collaboration tools such as synchronous meetings, work spaces, reviewing documents, surfing and chatting.
The other consideration would be the bandwidth and processing power required to have such a workspace installed - for SOHOs this might be a stumbling block if the software:
a) requires a high speed connection
b) needs to much CPU juice
c) eats into precious local disk space (currently my Groove space uses over 120 MBs - not sure how much more I can stuff into it !)
"Enterprise" markets would require what I call 'closed' tools - tools that they can have exclusive rights over and fully control, for greater security and privacy. This implies that they would prefer waiting until they have secured the bandwidth to host the software on their server (I was only just asking my husband why their company - which has some 40,000 employees and 200 offices worldwide - doesn't use web-conferencing/collab - and he said to me that they do not have the requisite bandwidth to host it themselves yet - but they are working on it and will have it up soon).
These closed systems would work on the intranet - and access could be carefully layered. Until then they would perhaps use external suppliers as hosts for perhaps video-conferencing with their associates.
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?
Dina Mehta: I'd definitely prefer one that asks me for a lump sum fee - monthly or annually - rather than pay per head or seat, as some of the external suppliers of web-conferencing are charging.
Robin Good: Can you name three Web conferencing or real-time collaboration tools that you have used and that you think are truly outstanding?
Dina Mehta: As a SOHO myself - I've never really felt the need yet for anything beyond a combination of IM and Groove - I use Groove when I need to surf the web together - or to edit PPTs (PowerPoint presentations) or other documents - or to dump photos (in my line of research - I have field ethnographers sending me stuff from all over the country etc).
The chat pane is good there, as is the co-navigating function. Asynchronous messaging too is great - but synchronous editing is slow and the voice application isn't that neat either - especially when internet connections aren't so terrific - so I tend to use IM for that - and more recently Skype - which is absolutely terrific.
I also have a webcam set up which works best through yahoo messenger in my experience.
Robin Good: Who do you think has got the best shot at developing a technology close to what we really need?
Dina Mehta: I'd say Microsoft perhaps - not just because it is Microsoft - but from my own experiences of having used Groove - in which I think it has invested - and Netmeeting - which I have used too occasionally.
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?
Dina Mehta: I haven't yet found one single resource really - there are a few documents researching this area available for a fee - or individual vendor sites - but haven't really explored them in any way. Thinkofit is a good resource and quite useful!
I'd really like to see one consolidated space where someone has done a complete study on pros and cons of each system available - like a SWOT analysis by user type - and a ready reckoner on costs.
Robin Good: Can you describe your ideal dream conferencing/collaboration system in its main characteristics?
Dina Mehta: Hmmm - I'd like a work space like Groove - its synchronous and asynchronous, its clean and easy to navigate even for a non-techie - with most of its tools like Browser, Picture Chat pane, Discussion, Document review, Messaging, Meetings, Notepad etc. But need much better voice - something like Skype - and video conferencing facilities - that would be terrific.
Additional goodies would be a blog or wiki like application - where the conferencing system can actually move into a more collaboratory mode - with threaded discussions and a space that encourages brainstorming issues, new product innovations or any other 'task at hand' that requires a group of people to work together within a community or simply in a more collective environment.
Dina Mehta is a qualitative researcher based in Mumbai, India. She spent the first 10 years of her career with IMRB, India's largest market research agency. Set up her own consultancy in 1998, offering clients comprehensive qualitative research on brands, products and services especially in the youth market segment.
Recently, Dina has been studying the area of social software in the context of creating/adapting tools for knowledge management and with the hope that new cultures of communication would be initiated and nurtured through the intelligent and effective use of community and collaboration technologies.
She believes firmly in the concept of Abundance - a philosophy that suggests - 'share ..... learn ..... grow'. Her thoughts, musings and endeavours can be found at her blog - Conversations with Dina.
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