An Optimistic Outlook for Online Conferencing

By Will Pass & Lindsay Case

Nine years ago, the term "web conferencing" was a term used to describe programs more akin to forum chatting and user lists—programs where users would post messages and questions for other users to read and respond to. However, web conferencing has more recently become its own separate format of web-based communication for groups of people to communicate live over the Internet. Instead of posting messages asynchronously, users could meet in a ‘conference room’ (confernce URL) and talk, chat, share videos, view PowerPoint presentations, and even share desktops with each other, all in a 'real-time' environment. Everyone from business managers to students to club organizers could find something to love about the speed and variety of features offered by web conferencing.

When these programs premiered, they were expensive to own and maintain which limited web conferencing to large businesses or those heavily involved with computer software design. As of 2004, Macromedia Breeze (now called Adobe Connect) began offering account options for small business owners, charging only 34 cents per minute for the use of a conference room. Web conferencing has become affordable for just about everyone, including my 2007 online documentation class, which conducted an entire semester of classes online using a full version of Adobe Connect at no extra cost to the students.

An entire college class can now hold a semester of meetings online, while the school only pays a nominal fee for software licensing. This type of class holds a two-sided value for the students, because while they learn the course materials, they get the added bonus of learning a common tool of the business world by performing all their communications within the environment of a web conferencing program.

This raises the question "has web conferencing become enough a part of technical communication that it should be taught in school" It seems the answer is yes. Web conferencing provides businesses with a cost-effective way to share meetings and documents quickly and easily without having to travel. It is becoming simple to shop for and own because programs such as Adobe Connect, Citrix GoToMeeting, and WebEx MeetMeNow are readily available on the market for licensing purchase or room rental. Virtually every major software company today produces and maintains its own online web conferencing program, and many companies are putting additional money behind research and development to accelerate advancements. Business staff in Boston, Budapest, and Singapore can hold a live meeting together with all the technology features of a regular meeting without ever having to leave their offices.

What, then, is the future of web conferencing? Most software development companies are basing their newest developments on customer suggestions to develop better VoIP technology. Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), and is the standard acronym for any type of system that lets users verbally talk and listen to each other using the Internet. Programs like Skype are currently offering VoIP software that is completely free for use in an effort to promote this technology. Though VoIP programs are still struggling to provide adequate security features for online phones, the cost-effectiveness of VoIP technology is inspiring software companies to push forward this new technology. For example, Microsoft announced this year that they are beta testing a program, currently called Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007, which will offer web conferencing and VoIP software that will be bundled with Microsoft Office.

All these developments show that web conferencing is only going to continue to grow and become an integral part of running a business. As business reliability on web conferencing grows, students will be expected to learn the fine points of these programs as well. Programs will continue to become more comprehensive, user friendly, and affordable, leading to a bright future for web conferencing and a new frontier for communication to expand on.




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