Web Conferencing Provider - A 7-Point Buyer's ChecklistWeb Conferencing Provider - A 7-Point Buyer's Checklist

When you are in the market for a web conferencing provider for your corporation, non-profit, small business or other type of organization, the process can feel a little bit daunting at first. One particular challenge is that no two systems go by exactly the same production description. Then, there is the challenge of having so many features to choose from.

There is no single set of product features that is found in all web conferencing products. In fact, in this space, the solutions themselves are not always called "web conferencing" solutions by their makers. For example, other names these systems can go by in the marketplace are: video conferencing, teleconferencing, webinars, webcasts, desktop sharing, online meetings, net meetings, web meetings, presentation software, distance learning, remote desktop support, online work collaboration, internet conferencing, and online conferencing - to name a few.

If you are in the market for a web conferencing provider, there are some key questions you should answer for yourself before you start shopping. Your answers to the questions in the 7-point buyer's checklist below will help determine which type of system you should be shopping for:

1. Do you need VoIP?
Some web conferencing systems require that you use a land-line or mobile phone (i.e., a standard telephone) in tandem with the software. Meanwhile, others have built-in voice-over-IP (VoIP) protocols that leverage the Internet to carry your voice communications.

2. How important is work collaboration to you?
Does your organization require that its members be able to collaborate directly on projects remotely with multiple people in different places? Work collaboration software is a special breed of web-based conferencing software that emphasizes workflow management and application sharing, among other features.

3. Do you need webcasting capabilities?
Webcasting refers to the ability to conduct one-to-many presentations, usually with 50, 100, 1,000 or more attendees. The emphasis in the feature sets of these systems is on that of hosting multiple attendees and generally one-way communication formats, rather than a traditional meeting-style format.

4. Will you require audience/attendee feedback capabilities?
Many leading systems - but not all - offer the ability for attendees to send feedback to the meeting organizer in the form of text chat, polls, votes, and instant messages.

5. Do you care if your users need to download the application in order to use it?
Some systems are hosted (e.g., web applications or locally-hosted solutions), while others are downloadable and reside primarily on the users' own computers. There are advantages to both types but this is a key distinction worth inquiring about.

6. How would you rate the importance of security in your selection of a Web conferencing provider, on a scale of 1-10?
Of course, everyone would naturally respond with a "10," until they learn of the costs involved. While all competent systems have a number of good security features, many enterprise-grade systems have additional layers of security which make them almost totally bullet-proof in terms of preventing unauthorized listening in or attendance.

7. Do you require the ability to allow users to view and control each other's desktops?
Desktop sharing is one of the most commonly-used features in web meeting and conferencing solutions. It essentially allows all users to view and/or control the screen of usually one presenter at a time. This is a useful feature when it comes to viewing websites or other applications simultaneously.

Consider your answers to these 7 questions as you shop for the right web-based conferencing provider. This will help you balance cost constraints with the features you need.
by Susan Willis
References and Bibliography
Compare secure web conferencing solutions at: Secure Web Conferencing Advisor.
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