Home opinion-and-analysis The-Wired-CIO Your online collaboration costs can decrease while you Vyew them

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GoToMeeting, by Citrix, is a major player in online collaboration and teleconferencing, offering sizeable savings in business travel costs. Yet, if GoToMeeting doesn’t match your budget perhaps Vyew may better fit the bill, starting at $0 for up to 10 concurrent participants.

GoToMeeting offers tremendous facilities to an enterprise to conduct meetings, collaborate on projects, conduct training and even provide remote assistance. In conjunction with its screen-sharing technology, participants can conference via VoIP via computer or mobile device.

That said, it comes with a price tag, as does its nearest competitors Cisco WebEx and Adobe Connect. For this fee you receive a lot of bang, make no mistake, but there may be many good reasons why an enterprise would desire a lower-cost solution.

Personally, I am seeking to reduce costs by $10K/week or half a million dollars this year. Previously, I wrote about EBIT, a number your CFO and shareholders and board care about. This is a measure of the true profitability of a business. The two ways to increase EBIT are to increase sales revenue and to decrease costs. Yet, a million dollars of additional sales revenue does not translate to a million dollars of EBIT. To achieve such a sales increase may well have necessitated hiring new staff to service the contract, the production of goods, the delivery of services, increased administration and processing and so forth. By contrast, reducing expenditure of indirect business costs directly increases EBIT by an equivalent amount.

As such, I have been investigating a conferencing platform called Vyew which offers the astounding pricetag of exactly zero dollars for up to ten users. This is achieved via advertising within your conference, though the advertising is unobtrusive and inoffensive. Paid plans offer an ad-free experience as well as support for many more users.

On first experience, Vyew is very different from the better known packages listed earlier. To begin, there is no downloadable client software for initiating or scheduling meetings. Instead, all meetings – called “rooms” – are created directly on the Vyew web site, with an URL issued to others so they may participate.

The next, and perhaps most stark difference, is Vyew provides a canvas embedded within a web page for its conference. There is no screen-sharing whatsoever. This can be confronting if you are used to a screen-sharing paradigm but with a different mindset you may find you do not lose any functionality whatsoever. Vyew will allow you to import a variety of the most common office document file formats – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF and so on – allowing you to work through such files along with your meeting participants.

That said, I found a disconnect between my screen and those of others. If I zoomed in a spreadsheet, for example, there was no corresponding change to what others saw. They had to zoom in, and pan and scroll, by themselves. In that regard, I wondered if there was any benefit to me simply e-mailing the file to people and talking on the phone saying, “Ok, open that spreadsheet ...” as I needed a similar amount of guesswork to know just what meeting attendees were looking at.

Nevertheless, that aside, both myself and others – if I permitted – could highlight sections of the screen and draw over it, with a collection of annotation tools provided.

Vyew offers voice and camera conferencing but with some constraints. For starters, the core of Vyew is a Flash application embedded within a larger Java application. This means, firstly, the platform simply will not run on an iOS device like the iPad, but secondly, the support for voice and camera is actually supplied through Flash rather than anything in Vyew itself.

Turning on VoIP will lead to frustration unless you know how; it is not under a single Vyew menu but instead you right-click inside the web page and bring up the Adobe Flash application settings. Here, you give Flash the permission to use your microphone and/or camera.

For free users another limitation shows up here; only four people may speak at a time. If you have more than four attendees in your meeting then people will need to take turns manually disabling, and re-enabling, Flash’s access to the microphone in order to speak.

A teleconference land line number is available but only to U.S. residents.

Impressively, Vyew offers an API for programmers to interact directly with Vyew rooms and this may make for some intriguing possibilities.

At the end of the day, Vyew is an accessible collaboration and conferencing platform. While it does not stand up to the better known products, it does not purport to, and at a starting price of nothing it really provides a compelling package for simple online conferencing provided its limitations and quirks are known and understood in advance.

Video tutorials are online and with the only requirement for testing being a Java- and Flash-enabled web browser, why not give it a try?

 

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David M Williams

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David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. Within two years, he returned to his alma mater, the University of Newcastle, as a UNIX systems manager. This was a crucial time for UNIX at the University with the advent of the World-Wide-Web and the decline of VMS. David moved on to a brief stint in consulting, before returning to the University as IT Manager in 1998. In 2001, he joined an international software company as Asia-Pacific troubleshooter, specialising in AIX, HP/UX, Solaris and database systems. Settling down in Newcastle, David then found niche roles delivering hard-core tech to the recruitment industry and presently is the Chief Information Officer for a national resources company where he particularly specialises in mergers and acquisitions and enterprise applications.

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