Friday, April 20, 2007

Why Web Conferencing is Better than Email

I know that there are a lot of technofads that crop up daily, but please believe me when I say that web conferencing is not another fly-by-night must-have. Web conferencing really does have the "revolutionary" potential that we've all been waiting for. I say this not just as a rep for a web conferencing provider, but as someone who has been responsible for implementing collaborative practices in business and education for the past five years.

Training, Education, and Demonstrations
Application and document sharing open a world of potential far beyond the training manual, or even a training class. Web conferencing allows for one-on-one interaction in a hands-on, distributed group environment. I've attended some fantastic online product demos/training sessions for graphics software and programming environments; the combination of simultaneous demonstration, practice, and discussion is every trainer's dream. No one had to travel to my office to give the presentation, and team members who were offsite were still able to attend the same session, insuring information parity.

Document Collaboration
Text and graphic creation are key functions of many jobs, and the revision process is frequently a jumble of conflicting criticism and obscure commentary. I was reminded just this morning how no one likes to face a Word document with changes made by 10 different editors, but this is still standard practice. Online doc sharing has long promised better, more flexible collaboration (and some tools like Coventi are getting a lot of coverage for actually delivering), but web conferencing allows participants to modify and discuss the document, website design, or graphics in real time. I've gone sentence-by-sentence through press releases via a 6-person web conference, making full use of the highlighting/marker tools and talking through each step; though the concept might seem arduous, the text was better (and completed sooner) than ever before. Each participant got to give input, but working together in real time eliminated redundancy, conflict, and digressions from our initial purpose.

Web Meetings vs. Email
That press release I just mentioned could have been edited via email. But as we've all experienced, email doesn't always convey the full picture. Email comments can be less complete than those in a discussion; many people don't have the time (or don't enjoy writing enough) to put everything in writing. Likewise, detailed email commentary can provide too much information, and details that were carefully included can get lost; an idea voiced in a live discussion is much harder to ignore or omit. Finally, we've all gotten the seemingly-angry email that was created by someone who's simply a terse writer. Emoticons or no, emotions are still far better conveyed via voice than via text.

This might all come down to the fact that we're still human. We're social creatures, and we haven't yet adapted to a fully-online world. Web conferencing gives us in-person connection with digital accuracy and convenience. A revolution for the workplace? You tell me.

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