Monday, August 07, 2006

Web Conferencing Services Reviewed

If you deliver Webinars, hold meetings with remote sales or other personnel, or lead marketing or sales presentations for clients and prospects, you know the value and utility of Web conferencing services. Features and reliability have increased greatly over the last few years. Internet presentations save enormous time and money in travel.

As the popularity of Web conferencing services has increased, so has the number of options in the market. There are estimated to be more than a hundred vendors in the space now, though only a handful of leading contenders. Which service is the best? The answer, as it so often is in these situations, is "it depends." Web conferencing services vary considerably in price, functionality, and ease of use. The best solution for 2-3 participant remote sales presentations is different from the best solution for 6-10 participant marketing or training presentations, which is in turn different from the best solution for 50+ participant webinars.

Here are reviews of six options -- three market leaders and three up-and-coming services -- based on a recent client evaluation project.

HelpMeeting

Pros: Attractively priced at the 25 participant level and above, includes most of the basic functionality, easy to use, no client download required, and a free trial offered.

Cons: Expensive at lower licensing levels, lacks advanced features, not suitable for very large webinars, may have issues with some firewalls.

Bottom line: Worth checking out if you do a lot of 25-50 user presentations and don't need every bell and whistle. Pricing is attractive at this level, but needs to be simplified on their site.

Glance

Pros: Reasonably priced, easy to use, has all the basic features, no client download required, generally no firewall issues, free trail offered.

Cons: Limited to a maximum of 15 participants.

Bottom line: Glance is a great tool for remote sales reps who generally present to small groups., but is not a corporate or Webinar solution.

GatherPlace

Pros: One of the most attractively priced solutions at up to 25 users, and provides "event pricing" for one-time or occasional large webinars (up to 200 participants); excellent feature set for the price; very easy to use; free trail offered; no client download required; friendly and knowledgeable staff.

Cons: The two biggest are horrendous video performance (4 frames per second) and firewall issues (your presentation will be unviewable by anyone whose firewall blocks Java). The company is working on both issues and should have solutions in future releases.

Bottom line: This is one to watch, and maybe try out, given the relatively strong feature set and ease of use. If most of your presentations are to 25 or fewer participants, you may want to sign up for the free trail and test this as extensively as you can to determine if firewall issues are likely to arise internally or with your clients and target prospects.
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GoToMeeting

Pros: Pricing isn't the lowest, but is competitive at up to 25 participants; ability to cost-effectively host very large Web presentations (up to 1,000 participants); easy to use; strong feature set; few if any firewall issues; friendly and knowledgeable staff.

Cons: Product offering is unnecessarily complex, client download is required.

Bottom line: Budget-conscious users with simple needs may want to look elsewhere, but with its combination of ease-of-use and an excellent feature set, GoToMeeting is a strong contender for midsize and larger businesses. With its new GoToWebinar offering, GTM is by far the leading solution for frequent, large presentations and webinars.

Microsoft LiveMeeting

Pros: Broad feature set, virtually no firewall issues, strong integration with Microsoft Office tools, free trial offered.

Cons: Price, client download required, difficult to use.

Bottom line: A decent solution for companies with complex needs, where Web conferencing is used for a variety of tasks (e.g. client training, sales and marketing presentations, IT collaboration), and where integration with Office and Outlook is important.

WebEx

Pros: Market leader (i.e. system your prospects or other participants are likely to have used before), extensive feature set (including audio conferencing and Outlook integration), virtually impervious to firewalls, free trial offered, good tech support.

Cons: Same as LiveMeeting.

Bottom line: WebEx is the most expensive solution on the market, but also has the most extensive feature set. For large organizations wanting a single cross-departmental Web presentation tool, WebEx is a solid choice.

In the end, you'll have to make judgements about the relative importance of various criteria -- price, features, ease of use, compatibility -- in order to determine which service best meets the needs of your department or company. With the possible exception of Citrix-backed GoToMeeting, none of the emerging services are likely to unseat market leaders WebEx and LiveMeeting, but each has the potential to stake out its own niche. The best news for users is that, because these are hosted services, there is very little if any IT investment required. That means switching costs are low, so you can afford to experiment until you find your own best solution.

*****

Terms: Web conferencing services, Web presentation tools, online presentations, WebEx, LiveMeeting, GoToMeeting, GatherPlace, HelpMeeting, GatherWorks, Glance

The Internet marketing and advertising portal: WebMarketCentral.com

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

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