Posted on 28 January 2008.
In a previous reader poll, I asked folks whether or not they did online meetings. A few of you said yes, but most of you answered, “What is an online meeting?” I’ll try to clarify online meeting for you and introduce you to a tool that makes online meetings easy to do and at no cost.
An online meeting can be defined as a session where you and at least one other person are collaborating on a project in real time via your computers. Say Bob and Jay are in two different locations. Bob wants to have a discussion with Jay about a presentation that is vital to their business. Bob can email the document to Jay with some notes, wait for Jay to review the document, add his own notes, and email it back to Bob so that he can add his changes and finalize the presentation. This process can take a few iterations before the presentation is considered customer ready.
Why not have Bob and Jay work together on the presentation over the phone? While that can be more productive than emailing it back and for, you really don’t get the best collaboration until both of you can see the document together at the same time.
So how about if Bob and Jay sit in front of their respective computers, in whatever city they may be in at the time, and work on the document together. How you say? By starting an online meeting.
An online meeting has the benefits of a face-to-face meeting without having to be in the same place. As long as Bob and Jay have Internet access and a browser, they have the tools they need to start an online meeting. They get the real-time collaboration, the ability to view the document at the same time. Even share their desktops with each other.
Here is a free tool from Zoho called Zoho Meeting that can help you get started with online meetings. Note: Zoho meeting is free while in beta. Take advantage of it now, before they start charging.
With Zoho Meeting, only the meeting host needs to sign up for an account. Others do not need an account in order to join an existing meeting. Once you sign up for a free account, you can begin hosting meetings. It is a very simple process and only takes a minute or two to get started.
Meeting presenters can be both MAC or PC based users while meeting participants can be on Windows, MAC, or Linux; and Safari, Firefox, and IE browsers are all supported. Once the meeting presenter starts the meeting, he or she sends invites to participants via email. A link in the email will direct them to Zoho’s meeting web page where they can click to join the meeting.
Meeting participants can choose to either view the meeting with an ActiveX control (Windows only), Java (all platforms), or through the browser using Flash (Flash must be installed). The ActiveX and Java options will allow for a better experience when asking to take control, or viewing full screen, but the Flash version is useful for simply displaying data without a lot of interactivity, but is not limited to that.
So now, if Bob starts a meeting on his computer he will, by default, be sharing his desktop to all the other meeting participants. They can see where he clicks and what text he types as if they were looking over his shoulder. There is even a chat feature that can be utilized if long distance phone charges are a concern. The Zoho team has also expressed interest in integrating Skype (the free online phone service) with Zoho Meeting for even more savings.
For now, the free version of Zoho Meeting is able to handle my meeting needs pretty well. Currently, there is no limit to the number of meetings you can hold or participate in, or the number of participants that can be in a single meeting. Zoho has not said yet whether this will change once the product is out of beta, or if there will be tiered pricing for more meeting participants. Zoho Meeting works well behind a firewall and uses SSL encryption for security.
To be fair, Zoho is not the only game in town. You can also try Adobe Acrobat Connect, which has a free 15-day trial and allows you to define your own URL for meetings. Also, Webex has a very nice product that starts out at $39/month.
I urge you to check out Zoho Meeting and see how easy it is to collaborate with others. Don’t forget to also check out their other online products (many of them free too) like Zoho Writer (for word processing), Zoho Sheet (for spreadsheets), Zoho Show (for presentations), and many others.