I hosted a Web 2.0 workshop at last month’s ISA Fall Leader Meetings that was an open discussion of social media and collaborative technologies. The overwhelming interest was clearly focused on using video conferencing for holding meetings and presenting information. Before, during and after that workshop I’ve promised at least a dozen people that I would put together a comparison of available services and some hints and tips for using them.
In this post, I’m going to compare four different free services for conducting online meetings and/or presentations; DimDim , Ustream, Livestream and Skype. None of them is a perfect solution and they all have trade-offs that need to be considered for their applicability to your specific needs.
The Big Picture
Meetings vs. Presentations
The first question to answer is whether the collaboration is primarily a meeting or a presentation. While all of these services support online chat, only two of them permit muli-party audio or video conferencing. For meetings that are primarily one-way, Livestream and Ustream will be the best option. If you require audio or video conferencing capability, you need to look at either DimDim or Skype.
This is another critical factor, and will frequently dictate whether or not one of these services will fit the bill. DimDim’s free service will limit the number of attendees to 10, while Livestream’s audience can reach 50 and Ustream is unlimited. Skype’s limitations depend on how you’re using it – it allows up to 9 video conference participants, 25 audio and 50 chat.
Cameras and Desktops
Each of these services (except for Ustream) supports simultaneous broadcasting of both a webcam and computer desktop in one form or another. In my opinion, Livestream does the best job at this by a wide margin while Skype’s is pretty poor. The quality of the webcam broadcasting is always limited by the bandwidth of your Internet connection, but they all offer decent to excellent quality as long as you have a high speed link. Skype’s video quality is hands-down the best, with Livestream and Ustream tied for a very close second.
Head to Head
|Online chat||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes (50)|
|Audio conferencing||Yes||No||No||Yes (25)|
While this article was meant to cover some free options, it’s probably worth listing a few options that are available on a paid basis for comparison purposes.
A Word of Caution
And that word is “firewall.” Many corporate firewalls block Skype and video streaming sites like Livestream and Ustream. It’s important to understand who your audience will be and take this into account.