WebConference Software: Discussion Edition
May 3, 2021 12:26 PM   Subscribe

What platform(s) would be suitable for an online conference that mostly consists of 10-50 person facilitated discussions?

We're helping organize the online version of a conference for Bike Collectives. (A bunch of non-profits that are mostly run by volunteers and often have anarchist/consensus-based roots.)

The live conference is normally a 2-day event, usually with 4-5 workshops running simultaneously at any given time. Most of the workshops are group discussion led by a facilitator. The facilitator brings questions, keeps the conversation moving, and reminds people to stick to the ground rules. Often someone else will "keep stack" - keep track of the list of people who want to speak next.

This conference has a history of striving for language justice and accessibility, so the automatic captions in Google Meet would be a huge bonus. Unfortunately, convincing everyone to get a Google account could be a major hurdle.

We may be able to pay for tech, but this isn't a community that has a whole lot of spare cash and we'd rather spend money on things like having translators.

Bonus question: Traditionally, the conference ends with a wrap-up event that everyone attends. A platform that can handle 100+ people at once, taking turns talking, would be neat if it's possible.

What online conference / video chat / etc. platforms have features including:
- suitable for facilitated group discussions, not just solo presenters or small panels
- automatic captioning and/or facilities to support live translation
- doesn't require that every attendee set up an account
- good usability, even for people who aren't very tech-savvy
posted by sibilatorix to Computers & Internet (6 answers total)
"We may be able to pay for tech", proceeds to list high-end requirements likely only found in expensive professional services.

Sorry, but, you're not getting many responses because you're possibly asking for the impossible. At the very least, you're asking for something that needs a lot of time from skilled people capable of running and facilitating what sounds like a fairly serious conference.

What's your timeline on this? Hopefully the answer is 3-6 months.
posted by krisjohn at 4:32 PM on May 3, 2021

Response by poster: To clarify: We CAN pay for something, especially if it's really well-suited to this purpose.

Our timeline is 3-6 months! And we have an abundance of dedicated volunteers, some of whom are very technically capable, if we need them.

I just learned about BigBlueButton and found a provider that quoted $129 (after a 55% non-profit discount). It seems promising and I think we could manage to budget for that. We might be able to self-host, too.

Prior to that I had looked at Venueless, which seemed poorly-suited to this use case and would have cost nearly $1000, with added cost if we went over a hundred users. On the free side of things, we've considered Google Meet (requires that all participants have google logins), Jitsi (seems underpowered/underfeatured), and Zoom (someone in our community has a license, but I hear there's some pretty serious concerns about privacy and security with Zoom).

Please tell me about more options - including both top-notch paid platforms and free ones that don't meet the full wishlist of features. Thanks!
posted by sibilatorix at 5:31 PM on May 3, 2021

Google is bad in regards to privacy and your conference demographic may be especially skeptical towards them, but a paid Google Workspace account allows non-Google users to join Google Meet . Here’s a link with more info.

Google Workspace may not be worth it as in addition to the privacy concerns, a domain like www.nonprofitclub.org is required. That’s not super hard to setup but with the other considerations it may not make sense to spend the time to setup. The couple hundred it costs for a more privacy oriented and simpler solution may be worth the money, particularly to your audience.
posted by mundo at 6:54 PM on May 3, 2021

Whereby is a platform I’ve seen recommended on Metafilter before. It’s Europe based and more privacy focused. Main limitation is a 50 person maximum. I also don’t see anything about live captioning. The Wirecutter gave a decent review for Wherby. Scroll down to the Notable Competition section to read their take.
posted by mundo at 7:54 PM on May 3, 2021

Not sure what you saw about Zoom's security, but it's not from this month, it's out of date. They have regular software updates that include security fixes, they solved all of the early security issues well into last year, and I've hosted and been a part of dozens Zoom events and have never had an issue. Zoom ticks all your boxes and it works on phones, unlike some other conference platforms.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:56 PM on May 3, 2021

I’m somewhat of a privacy and security conscious person and to avoid installing Zoom on my Linux computer I use Zoom in the Chromium browser. It works surprisingly well for me.

The nonprofit I’m with recently hosted a virtual conference for 150+ people. I’m not a huge fan of Zoom but it was nice to have the technical piece of the conference just work. There were no audio or video issues for a large group and that was a relief for a resource-constrained nonprofit.
posted by mundo at 7:37 AM on May 4, 2021

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