Online Extra: Meeting Face-to-Interface

Are a sluggish economy and a fear of flying keeping you grounded? If so, if may be time to consider Web conferencing

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 , 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 Fred Strasser

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