In a moment of mental relapse, I volunteered to be my chapter's virtual meeting coordinator. I already do podcasts, which are virtual one-on-one meetings/discussions, and I've been wanting to make my podcasts more Web 2.0-ish. So, I thought hey, why not make the last 20 minutes of a podcast open to whoever wants to listen, allowing them to ask questions themselves? How cool, yes, this will spin my podcasts into a more interactive, web 2.0 realm. And I could easily get sponsorship from some company with a conference calling service to lube the virtual meeting wheels.
However, the more I think of virtual meetings, the more I'm having second thoughts. Here are some of my reservations:
Will I lose control of the meeting through endless and inane responses from users who have long-winded questions that only apply to their personal projects?
Will everyone start talking at once, creating a sense of chaos and total cacophony for the listener?
Will I have to listen to questions and answers that I myself am not interested in hearing?
Will the audio quality be unacceptably poor with 20 users on the line?
What makes this different from a recorded webinar?
Will I lose the intimacy of the podcaster having a conversation with a guest?
On the other hand, here's what I stand to gain:
More audience involvement, which could allow me to go deeper into areas I'm not that informed about
Greater sense of community and excitement around the live podcast
Less editing -- I'll have to just play it as is happened
A model for virtual meetings that other groups can follow
An experiment into the unknown, which always yields interesting results
Another problem is figuring out a conference calling solution that doesn't leave me with crackly and muffled audio. Here's what I've been kicking around:
In the Podcamp SLC I attended, someone recommended I use Talkshoe, and I got excited that a free solution existed online. Then I listened in to a couple of talkshoe conversations -- sounded like I was listening to people shouting at each other in a marching band in Times Square.
Dimdim.com also looked promising, and it allows screensharing as well, but it too has poor audio quality.
Skype allows group conference calls, but I've heard that once you add 10+ people, the audio degrades considerably. Additionally, I've heard that mixing landlines with Skype callers excludes people when recording the call.
I've used Free Conferencing in the past, but it too has poor audio overall. After 30 min. of conversation, the audio file was only 8 MB.
I could use Adobe Connect, but then I would be limited to 15 participants. This might be a reasonable number. It also allows screen-sharing and live chat. However, to record the calls and screen (through Adobe's service), I would need to upgrade to the Pro version, which is about 20 times more expensive than the lite version at $39 a month.
GoToMeeting.com is a possibility, and I've had good experiences with them from webinars I attended. I also hear their company advertised on a lot of podcasts. But it too is not a free service, except perhaps through sponsorship.
Obtaining a high-quality audio recording is my highest priority, and not the screen-sharing, which I think is ultimately useless unless one is demo-ing a software application (long demos will bore people to death anyway). Services like Adobe Connect Pro would allow video, but how many people actually have web cams? You would be surprised by the number of people I interview who don't have Skype or USB mics. (Lots of people do, thank goodness, still have landlines. I don't.)
Your thoughts? Would you attend a virtual meeting, or would you prefer a podcast? If you didn't attend the virtual meeting live, would you prefer to listen to a recorded version of the virtual meeting (instead of the podcast)?
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About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.