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As a way of adding visual data to an audio conference, web conferencing offers a relatively inexpensive means of creating a virtual working environment with persons across town or across the world. Here are some basics about web conferencing technology, options, and applications.
Envisioned as a companion service to audio conference calls, web conferencing first came on the mass market during the 1990s. Prior to that time, web conferencing had been considered a premium service that only the more prosperous companies and organizations could afford to use. However, technological advancements during the late 1980’s made it obvious that the Internet could support a simple presentation sharing environment that would be an ideal way to share, charts, worksheets and other data with persons while still using audio conference calls for the verbal communication.
The earliest web conferences relied heavily on uploading and caching an application on the hard drive of every person who was slated to participate in a web meeting. The upload would include files that would be used during the meeting. In effect, the originator or leader of the conference would be accessing those files during the conference and controlling their display during the meeting.
However, many persons objected to this approach, as proprietary information was now housed on a number of hard drives. The conference leader had to rely on the largesse of the attendees to delete sensitive files from the hard drive after the meeting. Over time, the technology was enhanced to allow for the automatic deletion of the files once the conference was over. To this day, there are still web conference providers that require attendees to log in at least thirty minutes prior to live meetings and go through this upload process.
During the early 1990s, alternate solutions to web presentations began to come into existence. One type of service relied heavily on the use of presentation sharing creation tools, such as PowerPoint. With this type of web conferencing, the leader would upload a slide presentation to the server of the web conferencing service. The slides were converted into basic HTML slides and saved on the provider’s server. Using login credentials, the leader was able to log in and activate a meeting, choosing from a list of saved presentations to share with the attendees. This approach had a lot of appeal to persons who traveled and could not always be at his or her own computer to drive the meeting. As long as the presentation had been uploaded to the web conferencing service in advance, any computer with an Internet connection and a media player would be sufficient.
For attendees, this newer form of web conferencing eliminated the caching of any files on their hard drives. All what was required for them to attend was a URL to the login page, and a passcode. Since the presentation was converted to basic HTML slides, attendees did not need anything other than a media player to view the presentations. There was no logging in early to download anything. Web conferencing became a little cleaner for everyone.
Over the years, web computer conferencing has become more user friendly, even as additional features were added. Audio streaming allows attendees to listen to the audio as they view the presentations today. Most web conferencing tools today allow for not only document viewing, but also the ability for the leader to pass off control so attendees can work on a letter, spreadsheet, or presentation together.
Message abilities on many web conferencing systems allow attendees to send private message to the leader, who may answer in private or publish the message to the entire group for discussion. Attendance rosters for both the leader and the attendees allow everyone to see who is currently in the conference, when persons join, and how long people are in the web presentation meeting. Recording abilities allow for the synching of voice and visuals into one permanent record that the leader may share with others at a later date.
Web conferencing has proven to be a useful and cost effective tool for many businesses and organizations of all sizes. As the product is enhanced with additional features in the years to come, it will no doubt provide an even more useful way to communicate with persons all over the world.
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