Web conferencing refers to a service that allows conferencing events to be shared with remote locations. These are sometimes referred to as webinars or, for interactive conferences, online workshops. In general, the service is made possible by Internet technologies, particularly on TCP/IP connections. The service allows real-time point-to-point communications as well as multicast communications from one sender to many receivers. It offers data streams of text-based messages, voice and video chat to be shared simultaneously, across geographically dispersed locations. Applications for web conferencing include meetings, training events, lectures, or short presentations from any computer.
Some web conferencing solutions require additional software to be installed (usually via download) by the presenter and/or participants, while others eliminate this step by providing physical hardware or an appliance. In general, system requirements depend on the vendor.
Some web conferencing services vendors provide a complete solution while others enhance existing technologies. Many of them today offer the possibility to subscribe to a SaaS solution, in order to practically avoid any kind of software download, installation and paid consultation services to deploy and set up the solution itself. Most also provide a means of interfacing with email and calendaring clients in order that customers can plan an event and share information about it, in advance. A participant can be either an individual person or a group. System requirements that allow individuals within a group to participate as individuals (e.g. when an audience participant asks a question) depend on the size of the group. Handling such requirements is often the responsibility of the group.
Most vendors also provide either a recorded copy of an event, or a means for a subscriber to record an event. Support for planning a shared event is typically integrated with calendar and email applications. The method of controlling access to an event is provided by the vendor. Additional value-added features are included as desired by vendors who provide them.
Audio Conference Solutions are being around from some time now. They came out on the market, years before Web Conference became one of the most important ways to do and keep up with the business nowadays. Different names have been around, like Audio Tele Conference, Conference Call, but anyone of these merely indicates a telephone call in which the calling party wishes to have more than one called party listen in to the audio portion of the call. The conference calls may be designed to allow the called party to participate during the call, or the call may be set up so that the called party just listens into the call and cannot speak. Conference calls can be designed so that the calling party calls the other participants and adds them to the call; however, participants are usually able to call into the conference call themselves by dialling a telephone number that connects to a “conference bridge” (a specialized type of equipment that links telephone lines). Companies commonly use a specialized service provider who maintains the conference bridge, or who provides the phone numbers and PIN codes that participants dial to access the meeting or conference call.
Businesses use conference calls daily to meet with remote parties, both internally and outside of their company. Common applications are client meetings, sales presentations, project meetings and updates, regular team meetings, training classes and communication with employees who work in different locations. Conference calling is viewed as a primary means of cutting travel costs and allowing workers to be more productive by not having to go out-of-office for meetings. Conference calls are increasingly used in conjunction with web conferences, where presentations or documents are shared via the internet. This allows people on the call to view content such as corporate reports, sales figures and company data presented by one of the participants. The main benefit is that the presenter of the document can give clear explanations about details within the document, while others simultaneously view the presentation.
Today both Audio and Web Conferencing Services are widely used together, to add the powerful assistance of a video conference at the audio one, and vice-versa to add audio clarity to a web conference meeting. Nevertheless users are suggested to pay attention to conference call etiquette when participating; for example, one should refrain from shouting, multitasking in certain cases, and using an unpleasant tone. Care should also be taken to schedule a call at a convenient time. Business conference calls are usually hosted or operator-assisted, with a variety of features. Billing is done through a variety of billing options.
Conference calls are also beginning to cross over into the world of podcasting and social networking, which in turn fosters new kinds of interaction patterns. Live streaming or broadcasting of conference calls allows a larger audience access to the call without dialling into a bridge. In addition, organizers of conference calls can publish a dial-in number alongside the audio stream, creating a potential for audience members to dial in and interact.