Recent advances in multimedia Web communications technology have made it possible to conduct Web meetings that effectively recreate the interactivity and spontaneity of face-to-face communications.
The first awkward steps of multimedia communications started with videoconferencing. While this was an improvement on the telephone, because it allowed participants to see each other, it required each user to purchase and configure costly and complicated hardware and maintain expensive, dedicated network connections. With videoconferencing, the spontaneous person-to-person exchange is improved over the telephone, but it still provides no capability to share meeting content. Its strength was relationship building, rather than productive collaborative work.
To effectively recreate a business meeting, users need to be able to do more than hear, speak to and see each other. They must be able to share content such as images, presentations and data, along with business applications, live video streams and other digitized content.
The next step in the evolution was the introduction of conferencing software—either running as a standalone application on a personal computer (PC), or sold as a hosted client-server application. Both solutions moved remote meetings in the right direction by not requiring users to purchase matching videoconferencing hardware systems, and by bringing interactive multimedia meetings from the conference room to the user’s desktop.
However, there were still some drawbacks. “Fat-client” PC software was unreliable, complex and had limited ability to work across corporate firewalls, while the database-centric nature of the hosted client-server software did not support interaction beyond simple one-way Microsoft PowerPoint presentations.
Fortunately, companies have begun offering Web communications services that use architectures similar to telephone networks to deliver full multimedia communications to the desktop. Web communications services use network-centric communications architecture to combine ease-of-use with multimedia interactivity.
For the business user, these online meetings enable greater productivity. Tasks such as business planning, product design and sales meetings can be conducted with lower operating costs when they are carried out over the Web. These services enable businesses to refine their overall information management strategy, resulting in an accelerated and better-managed distribution of knowledge and creativity. Externally, these factors contribute to an improved operational support program and accelerated business cycles, including reduced time to market.
Web communications services converge computing and telecommunications by combining the power of the PC for visual content with the interactive communications capabilities of the telephone. Web communications services such as these support interaction with the full range of media: data, voice and video.
Another important advantage of multimedia Web communications is security. Like the telephone network, Web communication networks use information switching technology to transport data in real-time. At no point is information stored where it can be accessed on the Internet.
As this evolution continues, there will be an increase in the availability of multimedia Web communications. These services will continue to evolve with improvements in the detail and service quantity and quality. Conducting a multimedia Web meeting will become as easy as a telephone call and as productive as a face-to-face meeting, allowing Web meetings to fill the large communications gap between simple telephone calls and in-person meetings.
Bill Heil, [email protected], is President and Chief Operating Officer for WebEx Communications Inc.