Web conferencing is not a very new thing and many of us already know about it. However before beginning to delve into the advantages and disadvantages of web conferencing I think it would be apt to define it in basic terms.
So web conferencing is a process used to conduct live meetings, training, or presentations via the internet. In a web conference, each participant sits at his or her own computer and is connected to other participants via the internet.
Typical features of web conference include:
1) Slide show presentations
2) Live or streaming video
3) VoIP (Real time audio communication through the computer via use of headphones and speakers)
4) Whiteboard with annotation (allowing the presenter and/or attendees to highlight or mark items on the slide presentation. Or, simply make notes on a blank whiteboard.)
5) Meeting recording
6) Text Chat
7) Polls and surveys (allows the presenter to conduct questions with multiple choice answers directed to the audience)
8) Screen sharing/desktop sharing/application sharing
Web conferencing is more often than not sold as a service, hosted on a web server controlled by the vendor. Offerings vary per vendor but most hosted services provide a cost per user per minute model, a monthly flat fee model and a seat model. Some vendors also provide a server side solution which allows the customer to host their own web conferencing service on their own servers.
So, after this background let us look into the benefits that we can accrue from the web conferencing:
- Easily accessible to anyone. With the wide spread availability of both computers and internet, web conferencing is very easily and widely accessible
- Allows the flexibility to the participants. For example participants from various geographical location need not travel to a particular place for a meeting. They can attend the meeting from their own locations
- One of the main benefits of web conferencing is also the real time illustrations that the presenter can provide using the “whiteboard”
- The availability of images and videos more or less replicate the environment of a live meeting and thus helps in keeping the emotional and body language part of the interaction alive
- Cost wise also web conferencing is a much economic option than most of the traditional ways of meeting
- Some indirect benefits of web conferencing can also be thought of like: It reduces the travel expenses for the corporates. Many companies incur huge cost in travel of their senior executives to different locations across the globe to meet their clients. If not all at least some of these meetings can be done through web conferencing to reduce cost
- Web conferencing can also improve the productivity and efficiency of the companies by saving travel time, travel cost etc.
- Another very indirect benefit of web conferencing and similar technologies could be the positive contribution to the environment. The frequent air travels by the corporates is a major source of greenhouse gas. Web conferencing can curtail the greenhouse gas emissions by cutting down on air travel.
- This can further lead to economic benefits if the company can either avoid penalties due to being carbon deficit or can earn money by trading carbon credits with other companies if the company itself is carbon positive.
- Low resolutions can lead to low quality. However with the fast improving technologies and better internet speeds available it doesn’t seem to be a big problem
- For a good and productive web conference to take place participants need to have access to high speed and high quality internet access
- The group dynamics seems to be lacking in most of the web conferences. No matter how much interactive it becomes but still it has not yet been able to create the same amount of impact as created by people sitting in flesh and blood in meetings.
- A web conference reduces your ability to network, catch up with old acquaintances and make new contacts. A good conference coordinator will collect contact information from all participants, however, and make it available to attendees.
- Another disadvantage of the web conference comes in the form of a lack of detail planning. Those engaged in the call must posses discipline and high concentration levels. To be effective, this kind of call must employ a camera, a microphone and other gadgets. Without any one of these important elements, the call may be a complete failure.
All said and done web conferencing can provide unparalleled communication abilities if proper planning and preparation is done. And with the advent of better technologies it surely is going to have more pluses and very few minuses in the near future.