Monday to Wednesday, 10am - 4pm, ET
1.855.281.5499 (toll free)

Web conferencing, webinars, webcasts, live streams, and what else?

Online Meetings & WebinarsCollaboration
Video conferencing

By: Frédéric Julien, Project manager / Gestionnaire de projets, Canadian Arts Presenting Organization / L’assemblée canadienne des organismes artistiques (CAPACOA)

Over the last year, I have been exploring a wide range of technological means by which arts associations can hold business meetings and deliver professional development at a good cost-to-benefits ratio. Beyond conducting some research and experimenting with online collaboration and communication technologies, I devoted significant time to sharing what I had learnt with others. This sums up my learning.

Terminology

Confusion around terminology can be a serious obstacle to overcome when someone explores, or even attempts to talk about, online collaboration and communication technologies. Here’s a basic glossary:

  • Web conferencing: In its most basic form, web conferencing is the simple web broadcast of a slide show presentation with simultaneous audio conferencing (via phone and/or VoIP). Web conferencing may also allow the broadcast of a single or even multiple video sources (see below). Participants are joining via their computer or mobile device. Interaction between the presenter and participants is possible via text chat, audio conferencing, a “raise hand” feature, and sometimes instant polling. Web conferencing can be used for business meetings, product showcases or webinar training.
  • Web conferencing with video capabilities: Web conferencing that also allows the broadcast of a video source (i.e. the web cam of the presenter). This is technically not quite the same as videoconferencing, which allows simultaneous two-way video and audio transmissions.
  • Videoconferencing: Teleconferencing that provides two-way transmission of still or moving images of participants in addition to voice, text and graphics. Skype and Google+ Hangouts are examples of videoconferencing services. Almost all web conferencing solutions have now integrated some videoconferencing capabilities.
  • Webcast (also called live stream): Media presentation (video and/or slide show) distributed over the Internet using streaming media technology to distribute a single content source to many simultaneous listeners/viewers. Essentially, webcasting is “broadcasting” over the Internet. Interaction with participants is usually restricted to text chat. Some webcasting services also make it possible to broadcast a slide show presentation. Note : webcasting is a less ambiguous term than live streaming, which is often shortened to “streaming”. In fact, almost any video content you see on the internet is being streamed (sent as a continuous flow of data, while the video is being watched).
  • VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol): Voice communication over Internet (rather than over the phone). It requires a microphone and speakers or a headset. Skype uses VoIP.
  • Online moderator: The person who manages the chat room and who troubleshoots technical issues, while the presenter focuses on deliver his/her presentation. Don’t think you can hold any online event without a dedicated online moderator: this would invariably affect the quality of the presentation and/or of the participant’s experience.

The image below summarizes these various concepts.

Diagram of web conferencing and related options

 

What’s best for me: web conferencing or webcasting?

It depends on what you intend to do with it. Your best guiding question is the following one:

How much interaction do I want/need to have the participants?

If you want to be able to talk with participants or allow them to vote on polls, web conferencing is your solution.

If you only need to do a one-way broadcast and you want to make it as easy as possible for participants to watch, then webcasting is the way to go.

But...

Each solution comes with its own set of technical requirements:

Web conferencing

Webcasting

  • Both participants and presenters will usually be required to log in.
  • Some web conferencing solutions require participants and presenters to download and install an application.
  • Other web conferencing solutions are web-based (they use web browsers), but issues are bound to arise regularly because of missing plugins or incompatible browser versions.
  • Don’t trust a wireless Internet connection: ensure you have a stable direct Ethernet connection.
  • No login is usually requested from the participants.
  • Doing a webcast is similar to recording a video: you will need at a bare minimum a camera and someone to handle it. Ideally, you will also want to place a microphone close to your sound source: you can either use a USB microphone or an analog microphone that you convert with an audio interface.
  • Don’t trust a wireless Internet connection: ensure you have a stable direct Ethernet connection.
  • Livestream provides a nice overview of tech requirements for webcasting.

Assessment of specific technologies

Web conferencing

Over the last two years, I tried the web conferencing technologies available through TechSoup Canada – GoToMeeting and ReadyTalk – as well as Adobe Connect, and Fuze Box. Adobe Connect and Fuze are both web-based and they have more advanced features, but they also tend to be more prone to technical issues.

Tierney's note: for more information on some of these tools, see our section on Online Meetings & Webinars

Webcasting

My experimenting with webcasting technologies has been limited to Livestream, Ustream, and a Toronto-based full service provider called Frankcasting. I used the free versions of Livestream and Ustream to webcast workshop presentations at the CAPACOA conference, but neither was fully satisfactory:

  • Ustream is very easy to use. It has a web-based encoder that doesn’t even require you to install any software, which make set up fast and easy.
  • In its user-friendliness Ustream self-adjusts image brightness. While this may be useful in some contexts, it doesn’t work as well with a conference presentation: whenever the camera is turned towards the presentation screen, everything else around it becomes dark (including the presenter).
  • Livestream requires users to install an encoder. This encoder gives users control over many parameters, including brightness. The encoder allows users to mix different sound inputs, which enabled us to pick sound from both our camera and from a USB microphone.
  • However, the Livestream image was blurry and we weren’t able to find right parameter to fix this. Based on the descriptions for Livestream video parameters, the fix for the blurriness issue could be found in output ratio, target bitrate or deinterlacing. One might also be able to have a better quality by selecting the Medium + Mobile quality, but this proved to be demanding on my computer’s CPU.
  • The free Livestream requires people to login to watch videos: not the best way to generate a viral response...

Tierney's note: For more perspectives on live streaming from nonprofits, learn about Maytree's and Health Nexus' experience. 

Final tips and recommendations

  • The usual echo issues of web conferencing can easily be resolved if participants are using a headset or earbuds.
  • Try web conferencing with smaller meetings and then work your way up to holding your AGM online.
  • Basic webcasting can be done with limited hardware such as a HD webcam. However, if you’re just doing a one-off webcast and you want high quality, you may want to hire someone to do it for you or partner with an organization which has webcasting capacity.

Any new technology requires a learning curve... but so does pretty much anything!

This report was written thanks to financial support from the Ontario Arts Council.

Frédéric JulienFrédéric Julien has been active in the performing arts for fifteen years, as an artist, cultural manager, and consultant. He has held positions at Canadian Heritage and at Réseau Ontario, and he is currently project manager at the Canadian Arts Presenting Association (CAPACOA). Frédéric has keen interests in research and cross-sectoral collaboration.