Web Conferencing: Origins and History

Web conferencing grew as a natural extension to the audio teleconference as the next evolution in the virtual meeting.  Facilitated by the Internet, web conferencing products were initially offered as a separate collaboration tool.  Subscribers to web conferencing services would simply use their existing passcode based audio conference accounts in conjunction with the web conference as web conference did not have any native audio capabilities in its initial form.

Web Conferencing is also known as Data Conferencing, Screen sharing, webinar, web share, Power Point or Slide share presentation (as well as other types of documents, photos and video clips) and has also been called, however somewhat incorrectly, a video conference.  A video conference may contain elements of web conferencing but is generally considered to be a separate service comprising of high quality video and audio.  A web conference is sometimes referred to as a webcast, which is similar in terms of its uses and applications but actually employs streaming technology rather than real time collaboration and has more limited uses since it typically broadcasts a presentation on a delay and is used as a one way medium more closely related to a television broadcast.  The term webinar is more general and vague and could imply either type of technology.

Web conferencing is a form of real-time collaboration in which multiple computer users, all connected to the Internet, simultaneously see the same screen either in a web browser or through a native app.   Web conferencing systems typically include features such as instant messages or chat, VoIP (Voice over Internet) and video.

Typically participants join the web or data portion of the call via an invitation email, through a web portal or through direct instruction from the host or moderator.  The email will contain a link to join the meeting, often with prepopulated meeting and participant information for convenience.  The participant will join the meeting in a Web Browser or alternatively through an application download and installation, depending on the device and operating system used by the participant.  Modern web conferencing services do not use add-ins, add-ons or plug-ins to the browser (such as Flash or Java) allowing participants to join easily and allowing presenters to lead PowerPoint presentations, slide show shares and other document shares like spreadsheets and other office documents, as well as pictures and video clips without extensive system compliance checks or software installations.  Once joined on the web, participants can join the audio portion of the meeting using the built in web audio, by calling a local, toll free or international toll free number to a teleconferencing bridge or by dialing out to their phone from the web conferencing interface using a convenient “Call Me” feature, particularly useful for international connections.

An online meeting scheduled by the host or moderator is led by a presenter, which may or may not be the host, to a passive audience or is an interactive collaboration session which is often recorded for archive purposes.  The host or moderator is able to upload the meeting with the needed slides and documents in advance of meeting start.  Once the meeting has begun, the presenter leads the meeting from their desktop, mobile or tablet computer connected to the internet. The synchronized audio and video archive is preserved as a video in a common format such as MP4 and made available on demand through a portal for either private or public consumption under control of the host.  The archive may also include a chat log, copies of the presentation documents, audio recordings and a meeting summary. There may be several presenters, hosts or moderators in any given web conference meeting as well as one or many more guests in attendance.  Any participant can be given control over a presentation session and directly interact with the share session, and any participant can be promoted to be a moderator, and this privilege can also be revoked. Participants in large meetings are often put on hold with music until the presenters are ready to begin at which time all lines are opened. Larger meetings may use lecture mode and have all guests automatically muted while the presentation is delivered with the lines opened periodically for question and answer or other discussion.  Shortly after the meeting is over a meeting summary is typically emailed to the host as well, as well as an archive email if the meeting was recorded, with instructions on accessing the archive.

Common uses of Web conferencing are for business meetings and seminars, sales presentations, conduct demonstrations, provide online education and offer direct customer support.  Mercuri’s #IllustratePro is a comprehensive web conferencing service offering all these features and more. Learn more at Mercuri Collaboration Solutions





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