Web Conferencing – A Newbies Guide

With skyrocketing costs and ever-present security concerns, web conferencing is all the rage. And for good reason; just think about all the time it takes to get to and from a conference and the lifeblood it extracts from you and your co-workers.

Web conferencing – why is it so popular?

Have you ever had to jet out of town for a two-hour meeting halfway across the country? Or even worse, traveled to the other coast? Take a moment to analyze all the time (and toll) it takes to:

  • Pack your business materials and personal belongings
  • Remember to wear clean socks, in case they ask you to take off your shoes at the security check
  • Arrive at least 90 minutes before your bird is scheduled to take off
  • Sit at the gate waiting for your tincan to board (and wait even more, when it is delayed)
  • Steam on the tarmac until the traffic jam clears up
  • Endure the hideous stuff that passes for food
  • Catch whatever horrible disease has infected the person sitting next to you
  • Land (eventually), wait for your bags, and wrestle them off the carousel-o-hell and into your overpriced wheels
  • Check into your fleabag (what, they didn’t book you into a four-star hotel?)
  • Arrive at your meeting feeling the opposite of refreshed.

All for a two hour meeting … and you still have to find your way back home.

There's a better way.

With web conferencing, you don’t need to leave the office—just log onto the conference over the Internet and you’re sitting in the virtual room. You can log on from home, just as easily—all while in the comfort of your home office. No business suits, no need to get a haircut (or a shave, for that matter), no time lost commuting.

How much did you just spend on that business trip?  Ouch!

What makes web conferencing different from chat?

It all depends on the vendor. Chat is often found at the core of web conferencing software. But true web conferencing goes far past simple chat.

Way past.

Today's best web conferencing software provides a true multimedia experience, combining sound, graphics, and text.

Why write an article on web conferencing software?

I’ve been participating in online conferences for longer than I can remember.  My first online conference experience was on CompuServe, back in the late 1980s. In those days, we dialed up with screaming fast (not!) 1200 baud modems to participate in the forums, but throttled our modems back to 300 baud for the conferences.  At that time, CompuServe charged by the minute for online time—300 baud access was charged at a significantly lower rate than 1200 baud access. 

Back in those early days, I was lucky enough to participate in an online conference on CompuServe’s DTPFORUM which featured the legendary graphic designer, Roger Black. “How cool is this,” I thought. “… to be at a virtual conference with Roger Black!”  A transcription of that particular conference was included in Peachpit Press’ 1993 epic, The Best of the Desktop Publishing Forum on Compuserve. (Back then, online access wasn’t universal.  It was exotically geeky to the third degree. These days, what teenager hasn’t been in a chat room with their favorite pop star, scary thought tho that might be?)

In the spring of 1997, I was tapped to co-author a book on The Palace, which was a pioneering visual chat environment. The experience of plunging into a virtual visual world opened my eyes to the possibilities of what could be done online. The Palace offered a number of very cool technologies that would have been ideal for web conferencing.  Alas, the company was tied to entertainment, rather than business roots; and it perished along with many other promising technologies in the dotcom bust. (While the company is gone, the Palace community continues to exist.)

Web Conferencing on the Cheap!
I still have a couple hundred basically useless copies of The Official Palace Tour Guide sitting in my garage. If you want a copy, I'd be happy to send one to you--just cover the cost of postage and it's yours! The book includes a CD-ROM with the Palace client and server (Pserver) software.


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