You are presenting a commercial proposal to your big customer. A Sales Engineer will support you from a different location. Three people from the customer organization will be in the call. All you need is to set and invite people to a web conference and be able to talk to everyone and present a slide deck.

That should be simple, right?

Reality: that is anything but simple. It is not uncommon for web conferences to be delayed or go awry because attendees were using an unsupported browser, had the wrong version of Java or Flash, could not find the correct dial-in numbers, could not get their microphone connected, or simply “Can you hear me now?”

We have had enough technology to do good web conferencing for a while. Why can’t we agree on how we are going to meet, talk and collaborate on the web?

Traditional Voice Conferencing

A conferencing platform connected to good old PSTN lines is still the most reliable and available way to get more than 2 people to talk over distance. Everyone knows how to dial phone numbers and it always work.

But voice is all you can do. No slides, no video, no screen-sharing. It works, but it is so 20th century.

Peer-to-Peer VoIP Applications

Applications like Skype are great for ad-hoc person-to-person calls and can support full desktop integration, with presence detection, chat, video-conferencing, screen sharing, file transfer, etc.

But they do not provide the facilities to set meeting rooms and do not scale beyond a few participants. They also require attendees to be registered users of a service and have the application installed in their native device.

Cloud-based Web Conferencing

Web Conferencing is great. All you need is a browser and everyone can connect, chat, talk, video-conference, exchange files, share screens, white board. It runs in any platform, from any browser.

It runs in any platform as long as you have a relatively new version of one of the support browsers. And the right version of Flash and Java and proper firewall and video settings. And if you are lucky. Problem is, most people are not always lucky.

Proprietary Web Conferencing Software

So most companies end up using proprietary Web Conferencing software like Webex and GoToMeeting. These avoid the OS/Browser/Java/Flash compatibility issues by installing a native application (which is available for the most common platforms). Installing a native application is a huge inconvenience and obstacle for adoption, but most business users have already gone through that.

So that is the best we can do today. People use Skype for ad hoc communication/collaboration. Business use Webex or GoToMeeting for structured web meetings. Proprietary applications that most have already adopted and work most of the time.

Can we do better than that?

Should we just accept the fact and integrate our solutions to the handful of dominant proprietary clients in the market? Is it possible to build a web conferencing platform that enables me to connect with any client, be it a Skype or Webex client, IP phone, soft-phone, cell phone, landline)?

Can we embed real-time communications engine in the browser so that everyone can connect peer-to-peer or to a conferencing gateway from any device without a client?

Can we build a cloud-based conferencing platform that let people connect from any device over the web and, at the same time, avoid interoperability problems and does not require the installation of Java and Flash?

The most likely long-term solution is a combination of the alternatives above. We need a standard to emerge because Chrome people need to be able to talk to IE people and IOS people should be able to video call Android people.

It might still take some time. But web conferencing must become better… and easier.

For an expanded version of this discussion, including Daitan’s experience helping companies to pursue each of the paths above, please download our White Paper “Web Conferencing: It should be easy“.

Daitan Group is a consulting and software development service provider with strong focus on IP-based communications. We work with the leading technology vendors in the conferencing, communications, and call center and can help you to design and build your next business solution. Contact us for a free consultation on your next project.

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