Increasingly sophisticated but inexpensive webcams, microphones and speedier broadband make web-based conferencing more economical and attractive than ever. Here's a look at five excellent solutions for web-based conferencing.
WebEx (Web-Based, $US49/month)
WebEx is Cisco's solution for web conferencing outside of their traditional—and expensive!—hardware-based corporate conferencing options. Users can share screens, files, schedule video conferences in Outlook just like regular meetings, and easily pass the "presenter" title from person to person so each participant can focus the meeting onto their shared documents or computer screen as the need arises. WebEx supports multiple video streams so you can view up to six people in the meeting, not just the person presenting. WebEx also supports mobile devices so even participants away from their computers can participate in the conference through their smartphones or mobile devices like iPads.
Tinychat (Web-Based, Free)
Not everyone needs document sharing, screen sharing or other fancy conferencing tools. Sometimes you needs are as simple as getting some people together, for free, and talking via computer as close to face-to-face interaction as possible. Tinychat is a simple service that allows you to stream up to 12 webcams simultaneously while participating in audio and text-based chat. You can have hundreds of chat-based users, mind you, but only up to 12 video cameras going at one time. You can make a Tinychat room in a single click, share the link, and all your friends or coworkers will be video chatting in a matter of minutes no fees or fussing with signups requires. It's bare bones compared to the feature-laden and high-price options in the Hive, but if all you need is video and chat, it's a solid pick.
GoToMeeting (Web-Based, $US49/month)
GoToMeeting has a strong focus on desktop sharing and document sharing, but skips video support all together. When you're presenting, you do all your communicating via voice and using the built-in screen and document sharing tools combined with the on-screen drawing tools to highlight components of your presentation. GoToMeeting has multiple ways to interact with the presentation; the presenter can, for example, pass control of the keyboard and mouse to another person who wants to demonstrate something without transferring the full Presenter status to them. GoToMeeting supports recording to archive meetings, attendance reporting, and scheduling for future meetings.
Dimdim (Web-Based, Basic: Free/Pro: $US25/month)
Dimdim offers a variety of packages ranging from basic and free accounts to enterprise-level accounts with tiered pricing. The free account gives you full audio between all parties, public and private text chat, document sharing of PDF and Powerpoint files, web page sharing, a shared whiteboard, and scheduling functionality. Unfortunately the free version only has one-way video. The person hosting the meeting is the star of the show. Upgrading to Pro for $US25/month expands the video so that an additional presenter can connect in allowing for two distance conference rooms, for example, to be linked via video.
Adobe ConnectNow (Web-Based, Basic: Free, Premium: $US15/month)
Adobe ConnectNow is a web-based conferencing tool with a strong emphasis on document sharing and collaboration. You can share your screen, share documents, easily convert documents to PDFs, and create workspaces to share and edit documents in. ConnectNow supports private and public chat, shared whiteboard space, remote control of other desktops for interactive screensharing, and video/audio conferencing.
Love a web-based conferencing tool that didn't get a shout out here? Give it one in the comments or share a tip or trick for productive conferencing.