Magazine

Online Extra: Meeting Face-to-Interface


Blending audio, video, and document-sharing technology, Web conferencing creates virtual meeting rooms where people "gather" at a password-protected Web site. There, they can chat in conference calls or use real-time text messages. They can mark up a shared document as if it were a blackboard -- even watch live software demos or video clips.

Perhaps the biggest surprise about Web conferencing is its simplicity. You need only set up an account and download a few small software files. And in a Web conference, there's no need for attendees to use the same hardware or software. Every participant can see what's on anyone else's screen, regardless of the application being used.

Even with its video features, Web conferencing isn't quite like being there -- or, for that matter, being in a sophisticated (and pricey) video-conferencing facility. Still, the chances are that with the travel hassles spawned by September 11, you can get much more accomplished sitting at your desk than in an airport. A growing number of companies are offering Web conferencing. Here's a sample of services and typical prices of some of the leaders. For further explanation of common features, see second table, below.

WHO'S OFFERING WEB CONFERENCING

Service Provider/ Brand

Fee/User

Additional Charges

Sample Features

WebEx

/ Pro

$200 a month

$4,000 set-up for co-branding site with your company

logo

Extensive (Whiteboarding; File transfer;Playback and record;

Video conferencing; Application sharing; Document sharing; Text chat;

etc.)

WebEx / Standard

$100 a month

$4,000 set-up for co-branding site with your company logo

Very limited (Application viewing; Text chat; etc.)

WebEx

/ Pay-per-use

45¢ to 60¢ per minute

None; no co-branding

Extensive (Video conferencing; Application sharing; Document sharing;

Text chat; Polling; etc.)

PlaceWare / Conference Center

$100/month/user;

$225/quarter/user;

$600/year/user

$3,000 set-up for co-branding site with your company logo

Extensive (Whiteboarding; File transfer;Playback and record; Application

sharing; Document sharing; Text chat; etc.)

Sprint

/ Online Presenter Data Conferencing

(uses PlaceWare technology)

$240 (1 to 10 users) to $2,079

(251 to 500 users) per hour

Additional fees for audio; if audio services are purchased, data conferencing

fees are reduced: $130 (1 to 10 users) to $1,687 (251 to 500 users) per

hour.

Extensive (Whiteboarding; File transfer;Playback and record; Application

sharing; Document sharing; Polling; Text chat; etc.)

IBM Lotus /

Sametime 2.0

$28 per user for shrink-wrapped version;

about $15 per user per month for hosted version (prices, set by IBM resellers,

vary)

$10.42 per user for annual license and one year of IT support (shrink-wrapped

version)

Extensive (Whiteboarding; File transfer;Playback and record; Application sharing;

Document sharing; Polling; Text chat; etc.)

FEATURES

BENEFITS

Polling

Attendees can give instant feedback during meeting

Record and Playback

Meetings, product demonstrations can be recorded and played back later

(often called Webcasting)

File transfer

Users can upload and download files as they appear

Application sharing

Users who are given permission by the conference leader can actually

take control of the software running on the leader's screen, including

moving the cursor and opening files.

Document sharing

Users can see whatever file is open on the conference leader's screen.

Text chat

Users can send text messages to each other, publicly or privately, during

the meeting.

Voice over IP (VoIP)

Allows audio conversations to take place over the Internet even as the

data is being shared during the meeting. Because of technical limits of

VoIP, most Web conference users prefer to use a traditional telephone

conference call instead.

Video conferencing

Allows those with digital video cameras to show their faces as they

talk. Faces typically appear in one portion of the screen, while documents

and text chats appear in the remaining portion.

Whiteboarding

Allows users with permission to use a virtual marker to annotate documents

being shared during the meeting.

Data compiled by Kevin Ferguson

By Kevin Ferguson

EDITED BY Edited by Fred Strasser


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