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Contents Capabilities of Web Conferencing Systems 6 Benefits Expected from Web Conferencing 9 Web Conferencing Hosting Alternatives 12 Free (or Near-Free) Web Conferencing Services 14 Web Conferencing Trends 15 Business.com Checklist for Web Conferencing Systems 17 Glossary of Web Conferencing Terms 19 4. 4 Web Conferencing Overview W eb conferencing provides real-time communication that includes video, as well as audio and text. Web conferencing is used for conducting meetings, training, lectures, presentations, and other employee collaborations via high-speed Internet connection. A 2013 Forrester Research study indicated that 15% of North American and European information workers use video conferencing on their mobile devices for work-related calls, an indication of how important web conferencing has become to business. A web conference, also called a webinar, can consist of: two individuals in a conference a single presenter with an audience whose members may or may not be able to interact with the presenter or each other multiple participants interacting with each other without a moderator 5. 5 Web conferencing evolved from traditional room-based videoconferences, which rely on specialized hardware and dedicated transmission equipment. Advances in technology make web conferencing easily affordable for a one-person business, as well as a multinational corporation. Systems available on both desktop and mobile platforms require only a web browser or an easily installed application. Moving conferencing capabilities from a room to a screen eliminates the hassle of scheduling room reservations and dealing with chargebacks, not to mention eliminating the need to have a room at all. Thus, web conferencing connects not only people in rooms in various buildings, but it connects workers, partners and customers at multiple locations through cloud-based browsers accessed via laptop computer, tablet computer, or smartphone. Although Web conferencing applications initially aimed at consumers, such as Skype and FaceTime, may lack certain functions, they nevertheless offer quality, convenience, and end-user familiarity, often at no cost. Commercial applications offer more features, interoperability with other systems, and greater security. Turnkey, room-based video conferencing applications with high-quality video continue to have their place; however, as the trend toward a mobile workforce continues, there is an increasing need to integrate laptop and mobile device web- conferencing abilities into these meetings. 6. 6 Capabilities of Web Conferencing Systems I n most cases, a meeting moderator invites attendees, who can then log in to a meeting. Depending on the capabilities of the software and the number of participants, individual participants may be able to see one another and ask questions, or otherwise interact with other participants. In other situations, participants may just be observers. Some variations of web conferencing provide a separate telephone conferencing connection to let participants ask questions after a presentation. Typically, features of a web conference may include: Streaming Video, usually using a camera built into the users computer, tablet or phone PowerPoint Presentations, either prepared in advance or created in real-time 7. 7 VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol), to allow real-time voice communication over device speakers or headphone connections rather than over the phone Web Tours, in which multiple participants are pushed to password- protected websites without each individual having to log in Presentation Recording for later viewing, listening or distribution Follow-Up Reports, which can be generated after a meeting and may include the number of attendees, duration of the meeting, Q&A transcripts and survey results Virtual Whiteboard, which allows multiple participants to annotate text or drawings on a shared image or blank slate Text-based Chat, which may be public (between all participants) or private (designated participants only) 8. 8 Desktop/Screen Sharing, which allows participants to view the moderators computer screen (better applications provide options to conceal personal items and confidential data from shared viewing) Remote Control, an option that allows a remote participant to take control of the moderators computer. This feature has revolutionized tech support, allowing technicians to take control of a persons computer to make repairs Polls/Surveys, which offer participants multiple-choice questions, and can instantly display results Custom URL, a designated web address that serves as a companys virtual meeting room Customized Branding, so that the web-conferencing portal contains the companys logo and color scheme Web conferencing may be offered as a stand-alone solution or as a component of an integrated voice and telephone system (called a unified communications system). 9. 9 Benefits Expected from Web Conferencing Saving time and money. First and foremost, web conferencing brings together workers in disparate geographical locations without the need for travel. Participants can interact with one another as if they all were in the same room. Fostering collaboration. Increasingly, web conferencing is seen not only as a tool to conduct virtual meetings, but also as a means to foster collaboration. Advanced web conferencing features allow users to share or take turns controlling applications, and to share documents. These real-time sharing capabilities significantly improve problem solving and facilitate brainstorming. Ad hoc meetings can be convened almost instantly to address an emerging issue, bringing together relevant parties regardless of physical location. 10. 10 Doing it once. By recording a web conference, you dont need to do the same presentation more than once. Not only can anyone who misses the original meeting view it as needed, but future employees or clients can access the recording with no additional time or effort. Getting fast feedback. You can use web conferencing polling and survey features to get an instant picture of participants concerns and questions. No classrooms are required. Traditional training sessions usually limit participation to the number of people who can fit into a room. Web conferencing can train an unlimited number of people easily and conveniently. Improved productivity. Faster and better communication among work teams leads to faster project completion rates, with fewer mishaps. Better IT support. Desktop sharing capabilities let technical support staff take control of a users computer to fix a problem. No need to bring your laptop into the shop: the tech person can look at your computer from wherever you may be. 11. 11 Its better than email for communicating important news. Certain kinds of information -- good or bad -- are best delivered in person. But what if you cant meet face-to-face because of differing locations? Well, theres the phone or email, but theres no eye contact and its not as personal. While web conferencing may not be exactly the same as a personal visit, its the next best thing. Easy connectivity. Employees already have the equipment they need: a PC, laptop or mobile device with an Internet connection. Theres no extensive capital investment in extra hardware. Improved hiring. Screen talent from anywhere around the world as if you were interviewing them in your office. Improved client relationships. Employees can interact with clients particularly those far away -- more directly and regularly to not only provide increased transparency, but to strengthen collaboration. Flexibility and adjustability. Impromptu meetings are difficult enough to hold even when employees are floors apart, let alone buildings apart or farter.A quick email can gather the people you need when you need them to attend a conference of any length, without any setup time or expense. 12. 12 Web Conferencing Hosting Alternatives There are three basic ways to implement web conferencing: SaaS (Software as a Service). Web conferencing software is hosted on the cloud (i.e., a large number of shared servers) and is accessed via a web browser.Theres no software to install and no specialized hardware is required. In addition, high bandwidth is maintained regardless of the number of participants. Service is scalable and licensed for a monthly fee. The cloud is device agnostic. If you have a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy or similar situation where employee laptops, smartphones and tablets are made by different manufacturers running different operating systems, a cloud-based web conferencing platform is your best (and perhaps only) choice. Connectivity provided through any web browser renders other hardware and software considerations irrelevant. An additional advantage is that it is future-proof: you arent stuck with the bill to upgrade software and replace hardware to accommodate new technologies and capabilities. 13. 13 Disadvantages: Since data is transmitted through the vendor-provided server, security could be compromised.