We have been “interviewing” various online services for our online webinar series, including TinyChat, Ustream, GoToWebinar, WebEx, and DimDim. Each has their advantages and flaws, but we have finally found an imperfect solution.
Here are our requirements:
- Video broadcast. I am convinced of the value of face-to-face meeting, even if it is happening over the internet.
- Screen sharing. In order to demonstrate software or share a slideshow, screen sharing is crucial.
- Recording. We need to be able to store and replay our webinars.
- Plenty of room. Our attendance numbers are growing fast, and we want to make sure we can accommodate them all.
- Affordable. This means different things to different people, but the prices vary widely from one service to the next.
Here is what we have found.
TinyChat is a free and dead-simple chatroom service. We used it for our first Lawyerist LAB online webinar for that reason. To use TinyChat, you just open a room and give people the address. There are very limited options, and it just works.
The problem is that you have to be the first one in the room to control the room. The first one in our room did not hide the room from TinyChat’s “active chat rooms” list, and dropping in and heckling strangers seems to be a prime TinyChat attraction. Everyone in attendance was treated to various curiosities that I will not describe here.
TinyChat was a big disaster.
What TinyChat is for meetings, Ustream is for broadcasting video. It is kind of like a live version of YouTube. Ustream does a great job of broadcasting video from a webcam—the quality is even fairly good. But while it has recently added the ability to share a screen, it does so at very small sizes and low resolutions, so even a slide with huge lettering can be difficult to read. Demonstrating software is impossible.
Despite this, for what Ustream does best, it is a very good option. People can view a broadcast without signing up, although if they want to join the chat and ask questions, they must sign up for a free Ustream account. You can also let a guest presenter take the screen to do the broadcast, but in practice, we found this feature clumsy, and it resulted in poor-quality broadcasts.
While Ustream falls short for the purpose of screen sharing, we will probably continue to use it when we primarily want to broadcast a conversation. The price is right, and what it does, it does well.
After using two free and simple programs, we decided to give the “pro” options a try. GoToWebinar is a part of the GoToMeeting family of products, and does a good job. The problem is what it is missing: video broadcast.
GoToWebinar is really meant for audio and screen sharing. It does a good job, and is probably the most widely-used online webinar and meeting service, so it is well-tested. The basic package costs $49 per month for just 15 attendees, which is pretty weak, but the second price point of $99/month for up to 100 attendees is just about right for us.
I have never had any problems with GoToWebinar, and because WebEx and DimDim each had their share of problems, we will probably sign up with GoToWebinar for presentations where we need to include a slideshow or screen sharing.
WebEx is definitely the best option, except for the pricing, which is stupid. Before I get to that, the software itself meets all of our requirements. It is fast, solid, and easy to use.
Now the pricing. The basic package is $49 per month, which is pretty reasonable. Unfortunately, it only accommodates 25 attendees. If you want more—50 attendees would probably suit us, for now—you have to call and get a quote. I did, and the next-highest price level included something like 500 attendees for $300 per month, but we would also have to pay per-minute charges for the phone conference and other features.
So WebEx, for all its advantages, has an absolutely ginormous gap between its basic plan, and the next “level.” I assume they lack a marketing department, or else it is staffed with rocks. Who knows? Whatever the reason, the goofy pricing means we cannot use WebEx.
Aaron spotted DimDim recently, so we gave it a try last week for an online webinar presented by Alexis Martin Neely. Although DimDim’s feature set and pricing were spot-on, the software itself was awful. The sales website may be slick, but most of the links on the support pages seem to be broken.
When Graham Martin and I started up a test meeting, we found that the screen sharing functioned just well enough to be useless. During the online webinar, the audio stream kept cutting in and out, and the echoes if two people turned on their microphones at the same time was deafening.
It worked—barely—and the webinar was excellent, but that was due to Alexis, not the service. DimDim was a dud.
All in all, I was disappointed to find that there really is no all-in-one option. Well, there is, but WebEx apparently has no interest in the mid-size webinar market.
So, having tried most of the options, I think GoToWebinar is probably what we will use for webinars where we want to use a slideshow or screen sharing. When we simply want to broadcast speakers, we will probably continue to use Ustream, and keep hoping that GoToWebinar adds video capabilities in the near future.