Web conferencing is used to conduct live meetings, training, or presentations via the Internet. In a web conference, each participant sits at his or her own computer and is connected to other participants via the internet. This can be either a downloaded application on each of the attendees’ computers or a web-based application where the attendees access the meeting by clicking on a link distributed by e-mail (meeting invitation) to enter the conference.
A webinar is a neologism to describe a specific type of web conference. It is typically one-way, from the speaker to the audience with limited audience interaction, such as in a webcast. A webinar can be collaborative and include polling and question & answer sessions to allow full participation between the audience and the presenter. In some cases, the presenter may speak over a standard telephone line, while pointing out information being presented onscreen, and the audience can respond over their own telephones, speaker phones allowing the greatest comfort and convenience. There are web conferencing technologies on the market that have incorporated the use of VoIP audio technology, to allow for a completely web-based communication. Depending upon the provider, webinars may provide hidden or anonymous participant functionality, making participants unaware of other participants in the same meeting.
Other typical features of a web conference include:
* Slide show presentations – where PowerPoint or Keynote slides are presented to the audience and markup tools and a remote mouse pointer are used to engage the audience while the presenter discusses slide content.
* Live or Streaming video – where full motion webcam, digital video camera or multi-media files are pushed to the audience.
* VoIP (Real time audio communication through the computer via use of headphones and speakers)
* Web tours – where URLs, data from forms, cookies, scripts and session data can be pushed to other participants enabling them to be pushed though web based logons, clicks, etc. This type of feature works well when demonstrating websites where users themselves can also participate.
* Meeting Recording – where presentation activity is recorded on the client side or server side for later viewing and/or distribution.
* Whiteboard with annotation (allowing the presenter and/or attendees to highlight or mark items on the slide presentation. Or, simply make notes on a blank whiteboard.)
* Text chat – For live question and answer sessions, limited to the people connected to the meeting. Text chat may be public (echo’ed to all participants) or private (between 2 participants).
* Polls and surveys (allows the presenter to conduct questions with multiple choice answers directed to the audience)
* Screen sharing/desktop sharing/application sharing (where participants can view anything the presenter currently has shown on their screen. Some screen sharing applications allow for remote desktop control, allowing participants to manipulate the presenters screen, although this is not widely used.)
Web conferencing is often sold as a service, hosted on a web server controlled by the vendor. Offerings vary per vendor but most hosted services provide a cost per user per minute model, a monthly flat fee model and a seat model. Some vendors also provide a server side solution which allows the customer to host their own web conferencing service on their own servers.