Online Meeting Tools and Technical Communication Teams

online meeting toolHere at TechWhirl, we use a lot of neat technology to make our collaborations and meetings as easy and efficient as possible. The reality is, thanks to the wide availability of the internet, we can work anywhere at any time without the need of meeting in a physical or centralized office. Without a physical location to meet, we technical communicators need a central location to conduct business and have virtual “face-to-face” meetings. With that in mind, what kind of online meeting tools are available that technical communicators can take advantage of which can improve productivity, be simple to use and hassle-free, and also affordable?

For most professionals who use online meeting tools, the most important part of this type of software service in order of importance is reliability, features, and ease of use.

We’ve looked at a mix of known, unknown, free and paid services out there, such as WebEx, GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect, Microsoft Lync, JoinMe, Google+, Skype, and UberConference. Our online meeting tool matrix, summarizes and compares these meeting tools side-by-side.

Features & Capabilities and Accommodating Your Budget

Ideally, a technical communicator’s online meeting tool should include audio and video conferencing, full-size and scaled screen sharing, live document collaboration, group and private instant messaging, and recording all within the program. Not all tools are built the same, and each offers their own flavor of conducting online meetings. Whatever your team needs may be—from hosting large scalable online meetings to specific capabilities–you may find that you’ll have to pay to get the expanded feature set.

Obviously free is great for the budget, but it often can also mean missing out on some of the features the full version offers. Also, free does not guarantee reliability or live technical support that paid services can offer. But, free can be just fine if you are able work with some limitations and willing to risk some system downtime.

For example, Skype allows you to collaborate one-to-one with screen sharing in its basic service option. However, if your team needs to screen share with more than one contributor, expect to pay more for this extra service. The same type of premium priced feature expansion occurs with WebEx, UberConference, and JoinMe. With a paid online meeting tool, your users can expect a stable and reliable connection with less chance of suddenly dropping off the meeting.

On the other hand, for a budget of $0, you can host your online meetings with Google+, Skype, WebEx, UberConference, or JoinMe. These services may be perfect for a technical communication team where number of participants is limited. For example, WebEx’s free service limits meetings to five users. You’ll need to analyze your specific needs to determine if a premium service is worth the cost.

Ease of Use in Online Meeting Tools

Making your way through the jungle of online meeting tools can be an adventure, especially when you discover whether and how users are willing to install programs, add-ons, plug-ins, or to use existing plug-ins such as Adobe Air, Flash or Java to run these online meeting tools. Integration with certain software products may prove to be an advantage over other systems. For example, Microsoft’s Lync integrates with Outlook to show presence location among users of an organization. Presence location helps co-workers in an organization that may be separated by geographic location to quickly collaborate by instant message, audio conferencing, file sharing, or screen sharing.

We all know that people are adapting to work in a mobile environment, and it’s usually a good thing. But this move from the traditional desktop presents a difficult situation of trying to emulate full-feature services on machines ranging from smartphones and tablet devices. Happily, a majority of these online meeting tools have brought some of the capabilities to both iOS and Android devices.

Conclusion

The big takeaway is that you should evaluate what features you need to conduct online meetings efficiently, easily, and affordably. Depending on work needs, something offered for free may be ideal. For example, some small groups that meet infrequently may benefit the most by using a free service like Google+, UberConference, JoinMe, or Skype. Alternatively, large teams or groups that meet frequently can certainly take advantage of paid services such as Adobe Connect, GoToMeeting, and Lync to ensure quality and consistent service as well as extra features each system provides.

Finally, remember that you want to re-evaluate your online meeting tools after working with them to determine whether you are getting the most for your money or if you need to upgrade to a service for your needs.

Collaboration Software Description User Max Free or Paid Platforms Social Integration Software Integration Tele-conference Notable Features
UberConference Web-based conference service which integrates social media, voice, and video 5+ Free & Paid Online Yes, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter Evernote Integration Yes, local telephone numbers Unlimited Conference Calls, Call Summaries, Call Recording
Microsoft Lync Client and server-based conference service which users can screenshare, video conference, and chat Scalable on-site server capacity Paid Windows 7, Vista, XP; Windows Phone, Android, iOS Yes, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yes, Outlook Exchange Yes Screensharing, presence location, connects to Skype
Google Hangouts Web-based conference service as an add-on to Google+, which integrates various Google products and services 10 Free Windows, iOS, Android Yes, Google+, Facebook, Twitter Uses latest internet browsers Yes, can call phone numbers to join in teleconference Broadcast live Hangouts on YouTube
Skype Client based conference service which users can screenshare, video conference, and chat 25 Free & Paid Windows, MacOS X, iPhone, Android Yes, Facebook Browser plugins to dial numbers via Skype Yes, can call phone numbers to join in teleconference Filesharing, Group Screensharing (premium paid feature),
WebEx Web-based conference service which users can screenshare, video and audio conference, and chat 5 free Free & Paid Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone, Android No Yes, screenshare applications Yes HD Video, Whiteboard, Share Controls
Citrix GoToMeeting Web-based conference service which users can screenshare, video and audio conference, and chat 25 Paid, $49/mo Windows, Mac, iPhone, Android No Yes, Outlook Yes, toll-free phone numbers Record meetings (video and audio), HD Video, Share Controls
Join Me Web-based conference service which users can screenshare, video and audio conference, and chat 250 Free & Paid, $19/mo Windows, Mac, iPhone, Android No No Yes Simple interface, 250 viewers (free version), Share Controls
Adobe Connect Web-based conference service which users can screenshare, video and audio conference, and chat 25 Paid, $55/mo Windows, Mac, Linus, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Citrix No Yes, Outlook, Lotus Notes Yes Call Recording, VOIP, break out rooms for focused sessions

Did we miss any?  Please add them and your evaluation in the comments.

Roger is relatively new to the technical communication field; however, he works extremely hard to network and develop professional relationships among colleagues. He also posts articles regarding technical communication on his blog at WriteTechie.com. If you are interested in hiring Roger, feel free to view his resume on LinkedIn.

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