Tried-and-true free-and-easy online meetings
August 25, 2010 6:00 PM   Subscribe

How do I set up an easy, free way for people to attend our meetings from a distance? Picture about five people sitting around a table with five more attending virtually; attendees' tech savvy will vary greatly. I know that there is a lot of pay software out there, but I'm wondering if anyone's found a reasonably robust system with free or low-cost software. Do you have a tested set-up process and combo of free software that you know works?

We're familiar with the big, paid, enterprise meeting software (GoToMeeting, Office Live Meeting, WebEx Adobe Connect, discussed in this thread) but would like to hear about low-cost or no-cost options. I've also looked at this recent thread, but again think it might have solutions more costly and feature-rich than we'd need.
posted by lillygog to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You may find these options interesting. However, what you're usually paying for when you buy into something is the fact they've set up all the infrastructure on your behalf.

Are you just doing web conferencing or do you want teleconferencing too?
posted by clicking the 'Post Comment' button at 6:40 PM on August 25, 2010

Several people in my group use skype. So long as one person knows how to set up a teleconference, many can join with little technical knowledge.
posted by chicago2penn at 6:58 PM on August 25, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the link -- very useful.

I think we'd prefer web conferencing only. I want to keep the equipment barriers as low as possible, and teleconferencing would require cell phones or phone lines on both ends. Web conferencing with audio would allow me to say "participants need a computer with microphone and internet, that's it". I suppose everyone has cell phones now and we could teleconference through that (?), but it feels like an added cost to me, not sure why.
posted by lillygog at 7:05 PM on August 25, 2010

Response by poster: D'oh -- I may be using terms slightly incorrectly. By teleconference I assume people mean "through a dedicated phone number" versus webconference, which to me implies VoIP, not requiring any phone lines. Apologies if that's not right.
posted by lillygog at 7:07 PM on August 25, 2010

Best answer: Skype is ok, but with some people in person and some dialing in long distance, the sound quality will be terrible because of the group huddled around a single mic. You're going to get a ton of feedback through that mic + speakers. I've found that skype audio punks out at around 4 lines- any more and there is an inevitable drop off in call quality that just adds to the frustration. And that's with everyone on headsets rather than mics + computer speakers. The nice thing is that it is free and you can have side conversations via chat. A group I do this with frequently keeps a chat going for the whole group which can allow topics to get covered a bit more quickly- a chat can be a virtual hand raise, etc.

Someone was just raving about Mingleverse to me. I haven't tried it yet, but it sounds like just what you're looking for. It's web based, so no downloads, Each attendee gets an avatar they get to pick themselves (no cameras required), which my friend said was totally fun and silly and made the meeting much more enjoyable. There's an audio chat function and then the group can watch a shared screen, take control, chat, etc. It's free for less than 5 and $49/year for 25 people in a room. If you try that report back and let us know how it works!
posted by paddingtonb at 7:52 PM on August 25, 2010 has free 30 day trials, and sound like what you're looking for.
posted by mercredi at 9:00 PM on August 25, 2010

Will you be presenting slides or screen sharing? If not, try
posted by reddot at 5:12 AM on August 26, 2010

We're using ooVoo for online video conferencing for up to 6 people/groups of people at a time and it's working out pretty well for us.
posted by Hartster at 6:31 AM on August 26, 2010

Free? Roll your own. Install a VNC and repeater on your computer like UltraVNC and have the others run the client in listen mode. This will involve you opening a port in your firewall to accept the incoming connections, configuring the repeater, and making sure you have enough bandwidth to push data to all your viewers.

This is why this stuff isn't free. Gotomeeting, webex, etc all have servers that do the repeating for you, so you only need a minimum of bandwidth from the presenters computer. Not to mention support, easy to use software, etc. A lot of these packages are incredibly cheap, like $20 or so a month, so the DIY approach is hard to justify unless you have a special requirement. I personally like Gotomeeting. The software is much better than webex's and it works much better in low bandwidth situations.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:15 AM on August 26, 2010

Response by poster: This is for meetings that are held, at most, two to three times a year, hence our desire to find relatively low-cost, low-commitment options. (Among other reasons.) Thanks, everyone, for your comments so far.
posted by lillygog at 11:22 AM on August 26, 2010

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