Online Conferencing

There are many integrated online conferencing and meeting solutions. These vary in cost from free to thousands of dollars per month in service rental. The integrated solutions combine instant messaging, audio and video conferencing and file and desktop sharing.

Some solutions such as VMukti, Dim Dim and Open Meeting, provide free versions which can be installed and hosted on an organisation’s server. Unyte, mentioned above, is a plug-in for Skype and Yahoo Messenger for desktop sharing and online collaboration, with Skype of Yahoo providing audio conferencing.

At the time of writing OpenACircle,, is in Beta testing, but has been reviewed with much excitement as matching the way people work together.

There are some interesting features of this platform. The audio is provided by a conference call audio bridge. To access this you have to call a number in the US and enter a PIN code. Services such as VOIP Buster provide free calls to the US, which can be used to connect to this audio bridge at no additional cost. OpenACircle also boasts using award winning video compression technology, which can be used for multi-party video conferencing. By the nature of the accolade, although the system is still not in full release, it suggests that a multi-party video conference would perform well.

OpenACircle supports multiple video and audio conferencing, as well as instant messaging, desktop sharing, a meeting library for shared documents, mails and shared calendars. The platform seems to extend beyond meetings and into social networking. A circle remains open after the meeting and can be used as a reference or for additional contributions, such as for publishing proceedings or as a follow up platform to be used for the production of proceedings.

Now, here’s the bad news, bandwidth. Regardless of how feature rich a platform appears to be the issue of bandwidth still remains. If you haven’t got sufficient connection speed the experience will be poor. For collaboration to take place ideally each participant is using the same set of tools and as such for a collaborative meeting to work for all parties, the choice of tools has to be based around the weakest point in the meeting, the participant with the least bandwidth.

For multi party online conferences, I consider that sessions should be planned to utilise only one main video delivery mechanism at a time. Audio and Video conferencing or audio and desktop sharing. If OpenACircle is used and all participants are using standard phones for the audio bridge rather than making a free VOIP connection to the US, the bandwidth requirements over the internet will be reduced provisioning for a broader video stream.