Keeping a distributed group on task in real time
February 22, 2011 1:02 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for real world experiences using video conferencing software (WebEx, Elluminate, Connect, EVO, etc) to hold a working meeting (not a presentation) with multiple people on multiple sites (20 people in 15 locations in my case).

I am on the board of directors of a small national non-profit, and budgets being what they are we are planning to make one of our quarterly meetings virtual. I have used all of the above listed packages to a degree, but not as conference organizer and only involving a couple of people at a time. I also have not used each of them recently and understand that there may be even more out there.

So when it comes to having twenty people who need to listen, and contribute, and occasionally share a screen -- what has been your experience? I imagine we will be a mix of audio and web cam participants. I guess what is important is that there be some sane way of moderating who has the microphone so that things can move along and it is not just everyone interrupting one another (as has been the case with large phone conference calls). Your experiences would be valuable to me. The participants are not necessarily tech savvy either, so a platform that could likely be installed into 15 different corporate networks would be a plus. Thanks.
posted by cgk to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
We used Webex at my last job and it seems to work well for the most part. We had worldwide people calling in, although a separate phone system was used. The problems people tended to have involved the time settings when setting up the meeting and trying to figure out how to pass the presenter ball to others. I think these problems could be fixed with training or UI fixes on Webex's part. HTH!
posted by Calzephyr at 1:19 PM on February 22, 2011

WebEx is what my company uses, for things ranging in size from six participants to 100+ people at eight different offices and lots of home offices.

It's as good as anything else on the logistics end. The plug-in doesn't work very well for Firefox, which is irritating. Video isn't great while sharing screens. But stability generally seems okay and there isn't anything *wrong* with how it works.

The bigger concern is the content and administration of the meeting itself. In my experience, WebEx makes it tempting for people to just hit go on a PowerPoint full of text instead of speaking. And it makes sense to establish some meeting protocol for when you do these - one person from each group acts as spokesman, everyone mutes their phones when they're not talking, there's a sensible arrangement for who's running the presentation and the main machine. Sometimes it's best to have each location type questions or comments in the in-browser chat window, and whoever's manning the central presentation collects them and speaks them. Depends on your group and needs.

Basically, these things are useful, but they exacerbate presentations that are badly-organized or boring to begin with.
posted by peachfuzz at 1:21 PM on February 22, 2011

We've used WebEx too.. for 6 people at the same location but at their desks.

The lag! omg. It made it almost unbearable to participate in.

We've used MegaMeeting and had fantastic results with the same set up.
posted by royalsong at 2:32 PM on February 22, 2011

I have only used webex when I have been invited. The web part is bearable but the sound part is really poor. For internal purposes we use skype and use the not so well known screen share feature which works very well (at least a lot better than webex). I am not sure if Skype is a good replacement for the purpose you describe.
I was recently introduced to Fuze which seemed a much more of a full feature offering and integrated Skype audio which is great. I DO NOT have any personal use experience but they do have a trial offer.
posted by london302 at 2:44 PM on February 22, 2011

I work a lot (a lot a lot) with vendors who are showing things to a group or one-on-one using web conferencing software. Most of the group stuff involves people from many different sites (usually 30+) but is presentation style; most of the one-on-one stuff involves well, one site, and is meeting style.

WebEx is pretty popular and from a participant side works fairly well (except when it doesn't, see below). One vendor prefers over WebEx (not sure why).

One of the very big vendors in the business uses Connect. It usually works fine (again, we're talking many participants spread out over many sites), though sometimes the video doesn't load.

The rival to the big vendor above uses WebEx. The most recent user experience I had was that it completely crashed on the person holding the presentation. We spent 15 minutes trouble shooting why the audio worked but video didn't before it suddenly came back online. There was no appreciable audio lag and video was fine once it started.

Elluminate is now owned by the same people who own Wimba, Blackboard. I am such an anti-fan of Blackboard as far as stability, work across platforms, and overall usability that I would not recommend Elluminate for that reason alone. I should add that Blackboard just did a major site upgrade and, for the Bb side of things (haven't checked Wimba/Elluminate), they've gone to https instead of http and that has caused more problems than I can describe (Internet Explorer just flat stopped working with it).

Another one to stay away from in my experience is Adobe Connect (this is from a presenter standpoint). There are huge, huge latency issues and for those with a weaker connection, higher chance of being booted. Audio is also wobbly.

I will note that Microsoft Live Meeting (were you thinking of going that way) would not work on my machine for love or money (my work machine is a Windows PC and I tried Firefox, Internet Explorer, and downloading the program; nothing worked). I can't recommend that one.

If you were at all looking at ooVoo (not EVO, distinct), I also urge you to take a second look. It didn't work on my Mac when I tried to use it with a family member. If you have no Macs, of course, you may have no problem with it.

If you have a few moments, take a look at the archives of ILI-L (click on Archive in bottom left). It's a library listserv for instruction, and there's been many debates over the years about which software works best. If you're looking for a fellow non-profit point of view, this would be a good one.
posted by librarylis at 3:34 PM on February 22, 2011

We use Webex a lot where I work, and since I'm the network admin we never have any lag issues or anything like that, even if we have over 100 participants. Occasionally there's some crappy sound, but for the most part it's solid. The worst of the issues come from idiotic suits that barely know how to use a computer; they're helpless to change presenters and so on, even though that function has been made greatly easier in the past year.
posted by starscream at 9:45 PM on February 23, 2011

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