Where is Web Conferencing Going?

    August 29, 2005

In an earlier article I talked about the evolution of the conference call from a rather limited beginning as an expensive business to business tool to the present possibilities using VoIP and the steadily increasing bandwidth available to web users allowing us to dream of real-time high quality video and audio.

Existing web conferencing tools tend to fall in about 5 main groups: centralized forums, groupware, bulletin board systems, Usenet and mailing lists. A little imagination suggests Chat rooms and Instant messaging as being similar enough – and with enough possibilities to be included here.

Chat Rooms and IM have the unique feature of being real-time (or near real-time systems) whereas the other main groups are asynchronous. The growing use (at least in the internet marketing segment) of teleseminars constitutes another form of web conferencing.

As I watched my wife and children do their chat room and IM thing, I began to think about my own use of “web conferencing” software. I don’t do chat rooms or IM. The majority of my interactions are via forums or email with teleseminars coming in a distant third.

What I find is that many of people with whom I interact are offset from my schedule by anywhere from 3 to 20 hours. A few are in, more or less, the same time-zone I am, though their schedules also vary widely. Some seem to be online close to 24 hours a day, others only during certain periods. And this holds true even for people in Australia, Singapore, Japan and Eastern Europe.

I’ve discovered that I inhabit a virtual world where the people I work with and communicate with can be anywhere in the world and have any kind of schedule.

What this means is that until we all start to totally ignore the sun and the customary habits of pre-virtual life, synchronous communications are – and will remain – a rarity. The complexities of organizing a real-time web conference among 30 or 50 people scattered all over the globe, make asynchronous web conferencing an enduring solution.

Sure, all the latest web conferencing tech in real-time with interactive audio and video links is very cool. Unfortunately, it isn’t that useful on a day-to-day basis.

I work on the internet and the people I work with and listen to are scattered all over. I primarily use forums to stay in touch with them. Most of them I’ve never talked (audio) to or seen (video). I’ve never IMed any one of them. True, I have been in teleseminars with a few of them, but generally that’s limited to teleseminars oriented toward North American time zones (which happen to be only slightly offset from mine here in South America).

Bottom line here is what? If you want to stay in touch with your peers then you’re going to end up using email and forums. For the foreseeable future. There isn’t another decent solution for global connections. If you are marketing to the greater US, then definitely go for teleseminars and online real-time interaction including video as the tech and bandwidth becomes more widely available. But don’t kid yourself, until human nature changes, the utility of synchronous communication on the internet is going to remain limited to those within a few time zones of each other.

Richard is a writer and a programmer/developer with several products in the field of RSS feeds. On the input side for displaying RSS Feeds on your site see http://RSS-Wrapper.com and for additional articles and content on RSS feeds visit http://GeekWerkz.org