One of the most compelling features of the Internet may well be the ability to communicate inexpensively in real time, via personal computers and mobile devices. With the Internet, you can see, hear, talk to and collaborate with people in different locations around the world, without the expense of travel.
Conferencing can take many forms, such as videoconferencing, audio conferencing, multimedia conferencing, screen-sharing, and to a lesser extent, what is referred to in Web parlance as chat. Many of these systems are available for free and only require an audio source and webcam, both of which are included in most laptops, tablets, and smartphone. For desktops, the cost of implementing these types of systems can run less than $50 USD per computer, and conferencing software is available for Windows, Macintosh, Linux and UNIX operating systems.
Let's say you want to assemble a geographically dispersed group of people for a brainstorming session. Conferencing programs, such as the Microsoft's NetMeeting, allow virtual workgroups to communicate via the Internet; participants see each others' faces in small windows on their screens and hear their voices on computer speakers. You can use video and audio simultaneously, just audio, or use the screen-sharing capability to collaborate on documents with or without audio and video.
Videoconferencing is easier than ever. Most people who use videoconferencing on a regular basis report that they don't need technical support.
Conferencing can be done one-to-one, one-to-many (called multicast), and many-to-many (called multipoint). Most conferencing software is built on open industry standards so that a dial-up connection is enough to get you in the game. However, a broadband connection gives far better results.
Videoconferencing via the Web has enormous potential for enhancing communications for small and mid-sized companies, as well as for distance learning. However, at the very minimum you will need a high-speed Internet connection for acceptable video quality.
One of the most popular video conferencing tools today is Skype. This free program is available for just about any computer or mobile device. In addition to providing one-on-one and group video calls, it can also be used for voice calls, instant messaging, file sharing, and more. Skype, and similar apps, are using our always-present mobile technology to enable users to send and receive video calls at any time, the way we traditionally receive phone calls.
You can make local, long-distance and international telephone calls via the Internet for the cost of a local connection. Audio conferencing allows you to communicate verbally, rather than typing messages. It works by digitizing your voice, then sending the digital data to its final destination over the Internet. Some audioconferencing programs rely on the use of a headset and a microphone, while others allow you to dial a toll-free number from your home or cell phone and be connected to the conference.
85% of employees use video to connect with peers as part of their job.
Other Forms of Conferencing
Conferencing without audio or video can be accomplished on the Web with various document management, multimedia conferencing, or screen-sharing packages..
Document conferencing software enables people in remote locations to collaborate on projects via the Web. With some programs, participants can make basic annotations to documents; others let participants jointly use a word processor or spreadsheet. Software programs for multimedia conferencing and screen-sharing provide basic tools for connecting work groups and in-depth collaboration tools that enable users to control and synchronize applications and presentation of text, graphics, images, sound, and video. Whiteboard applications feature real time sketching, viewing, and annotation of documents. Performance and features depends upon the hardware and software used by the participants.
More 60% of ecommerce customers report that they prefer websites that offer customer support via live chat.
You can also use more traditional chat conferencing or bulletin board systems (BBSs) with real time capabilities. (Note that during chat sessions, participants actually type messages to each other.) This type of software can be used with your web browser to conduct online chat sessions with other users and can accommodate between 50 and 1,000 users simultaneously. Some companies employ this feature on their websites to facilitate communication with customers or as an information-based, value-added feature.
Several programs are available for business and personal web chatting. For businesses, services like PureChat, LivePerson, and LiveHelpNow are popular options to include a live, chat-based support features on your website. There are also a number of solutions you can install directly to your web server, though these will require more technical skill and personal management. For personal use, or business collaboration, programs like ICQ and Skype provide live chat capabilities, as do many mobile apps, including Viber, WeChat, and Facebook Messenger. Most of these can be downloaded for free and include many additional features, including voice and video conferencing capabilities. Some, including ICQ, allows registered users to set up both public and private chat sessions.
As more and more companies take advantage of our interconnected world to open offices and work with partners in different cities, regions, and even companies, they have become a major client for online conferencing software. Business-class conferencing software, such as WebEx and GoToMeeting, combine many of the features we’ve discussed above into a single system. Meeting leaders can share their screen or utilize built-in meeting features, such as a whiteboard, to share initiatives and updates. Participants can utilize webcams, and personal video feeds can be made full-screen or pushed off to the side to make room for the main presentation. Many also allow participants to engage in silent web chats, where they can message the entire group, the leaders only, or even individual participants.
Along with offering a more robust set of features, business conferencing solutions also offer great security measures, such as encrypted connections, password requirements to join meetings, and more. They can also be used to record entire meetings to share with your employees at a later time. Many services offer integration with other office software, such as Microsoft Outlook, which makes it easy to create, schedule, and invite participants to your meetings.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I video conference over a mobile network?
Most modern smartphones have access to a variety of video conferencing applications, all of which you should have no problem using over your mobile network. Keep in mind that quality will vary depending on network quality and the strength of your signal. If you are in a rural area with fewer cell towers, it may not work as well as video conferencing in a city where there are plenty of high-speed towers to connect to. Just remember, video conferencing requires your phone to send and receive a lot of data, so if you plan on video conferencing regularly, you should select a data plan that can accommodate that.
Does video conferencing only work on computers and mobile devices?
While computers and mobile devices remain the most popular tools for video conferencing, many other devices have begun to incorporate this technology. Some Smart TVs now include video conferencing capabilities, many of which include Skype built-in. If you don’t have a Smart TV, you can also add video conferencing capability to your television using some Blu-ray players and video game systems, including the latest Xbox and PlayStations. Some phones are now being designed with a built-in screen for video conferencing as well. Before running out to purchase any of these, do your research and make sure they utilize a video conferencing platform that your friends, family, or co-workers will also have access to.