If you, like me, greeted the news of Saleforce’s purchase of DimDim with a string of expletives, you’re likely looking around for a new webconferencing option. It’s not like DimDim was the greatest product ever (sorry, DimDim, that honor goes to the Shake Weight, with the SlapChop, running a train on a close second), but there were some nice features, it was intuitive, it offered included web and telephone access and the price was free or nice, depending upon whether you wanted to upgrade your package. We used DimDim as a the platform for delivering the monthly webinars tied to our LOMAP Marketing Group. And, I’ve been using DimDim well before that. DimDim became available in 2007, and I have been on pretty much from the jump, seeing it improve to a more robust and impressive product as it matured. So, now I need to find a new platform for delivering our Marketing Group presentations, and you need to find another way to do whatever it is that you do with your webconferencing. (No, I’m not judging; it’s cool. We’re in the Tree of Trust here.)

Following the accomplishment of a thorough review of the webconferencing landscape, undertaken and completed, basically, for the first time in five years, I’ve decided to collect my thoughts and observations, to be relayed below, starting with preliminaries.

. . .

So, DimDim’s been purchased by Salesforce; but, that doesn’t mean that DimDim won’t be supported by Salesforce, right? Sorry, Hoss. Ain’t happenin’. DimDim is DimDone.

What had been released as an initial statement regarding the purchase at DimDim’s blog has morphed into a full-scale PR salvo at Salesforce’s. You can find the full press release here, for your reading pleasure; but, I’ll tell you right now that it’s full of much of that horrid business-voguespeak that you hear at meetings, and that makes you want to throw up in your mouth . . . just . . . a . . . little . . . bit. Here’s what you need to know: the acquisition of DimDim “will extend salesforce.com’s Chatter collaboration platform with critical real-time communication technologies”. Hhhmmm. What’s Chatter? This is Chatter. It looks a bit like PBworks, which looks a lot like Facebook–but, who isn’t copying Facebook these days? The best way to conceive of Chatter is to think of it as an internal and privacy-protected Facebook for your company. (Delightful. As if I wasn’t surrounded by the Facebook enough already. This is the sort of language that launched a thousand intellectual property cases.) You set up your work profile and offer status updates. (Only, this has to be less good than real Facebook, right?: ‘i’m surfing real Facebook and not working. my boss is such an idiot.’ ‘Is that so, Chaz?’ ‘sorry, Mr. Scott. would you like to give an abandoned champagne unicorn a home on your farm? just look at his sad eyes’). Chatter establishes a socially-networked corporate directory, from which work groups can be created, integrates with other applications, is accessible via mobile, allows for file share and preview and features analytics tools. Other than sounding a hella lot like 1984, I guess that’s good. Check out the features of Chatter here, FAQs and demos being available there and there. Chatter is free with Salesforce. Good. If you want to buy Chatter as a stand-alone program, it’s by quote. Yikes. That probably means it’s expensive. Cheap stuff is usually not quoted; I’m not going to Quizno’s getting quotes on subs.

So, not much about DimDim above, right? Right. As best as I can figure, and as best as I can wade through the corporation mumbo jumbo about positioning and the next generation of technology and cloud 2, etc., it seems like the DimDim acquisition was based on two considerations: (1) get the sharing/collaboration tools existing in DimDim to graft those tools onto/develop those tools within Chatter; and, (2) get the DimDim team over to Salesforce–a straight talent acquisition.

What does that mean? DimDim as a webconferencing software is likely dead. (DimDim is dead. Long Live Chatter!) Some of the major DimDim collaboration and sharing tools are likely to show up as bastardized versions of themselves in Chatter, but there will no longer (or not yet) be a stand-alone conferencing option, or, likely, one with a very attractive price.

So, Where to now?

(By the way, I think the DimDim purchase price of $31 million was sort of low. If I ever invent some software that’s used by enough people or cool enough that some company wants to buy it, you can bet I’m not selling for anything under $100 million. You’re on notice, Zuckerberg.)

. . .

When you’re considering the use/purchase of a webconferencing program, you’ve got some initial questions dressed up as forks in roads to address first. The two primary questions are:

What Will You Be Using the Software For?

-Are you looking for an internal collaboration option (like those offered through PBworks, NetDocuments or Chatter with, probably, DimDim attributes, for example) Or Are your looking for an external collaboration option (for communicating with clients and referring attorneys and colleagues of presentation attendees)?

What Features Are You Looking For?

-What are you willing to pay, if anything? (You’re so cheap, really.) How many participants are you talking about bringing into your little conferences? What kind of sharing and collaboration options do you need? Do you need to be able to access on-screen chat? What audio options do you want? Do you want to be able to record your conferences? Are you looking for any special or unique features?

Generally, if you’re looking at collaboration on a small scale, your best bet is probably a cheap webconferencing program with a good security protocol (especially if you will be collaborating with clients, or on attorney-client privileged information), unless you can afford to set up your own secured portal, perhaps through another application. But, depending on your workflow, you may not need webconferencing at all; or, you may be able to proceed using a one-on-one telephone call, with some standalone collaboration program (potentially Google Docs, or, at a higher level, Chatter, PBworks or NetDocuments). Webconferencing options usually come into play when you’re talking about larger numbers of collaborators. Then, when your number of collaborators expands beyond the point of management for a free system, or you need features unavailable on a free version (like an additional webcam, say), that’s when it’s time to think about stepping up to the plate to pay somebody. When you’re making regular presentations over webconference, and your audience is decently-sized, and promises to stay at that high level, or increase, then it’s likely that you’ll require a pay version, or enterprise edition, webconferencing program, in order to pull off a slick enough stageplay of what you do.

Given the broad array of needs (only a smattering of which are relayed above, with examples), and the number of potential uses for webconferencing software, it’s impossible to generate a list for every instance (at least, I’m sure as hell not going to be the one who does it); therefore, next, I intend to provide some chief options (not an exhaustive list, per my above description), in the realm of webconferencing post-DimDim (A.D.D.), for your perusal, and complete with the answers to most pressing product queries, direction to special features, pricing information and other like thoughtfulness on my part:

. . .

Yugma

Pricing + Participant Information: Free + 2 Participants/Graduated Cost Scale + Up to 500 Participants
Sharing Features: Desktop + Instant Messaging (free)/ Whiteboard + File Sharing + Video, etc. (paid)
Security Application: Full SSL Encryption
Interaction Options: Chat + Call-In + Mobile
Special Features + Consideration: Yugma boasts a number of cool features, including: support for multiple monitor presentations; Skype integration; and, the opportunity to create and post widgets for sharing meeting access information. Yugma runs on Java. The free version of Yugma (yeah, the name is weird; apparently, it’s Sanskrit for “confluence, meeting or state of togetherness”) is very limited in time and scope; however, the robust, bottom-level pay version starts at $10/month, and appears as a solid value. The pay version likely provides more bang for the buck than DimDim’s pay version did; and, Yugma, in the timeliest fashions, is offering discounted rates for spurned (soon to be former) DimDim users.

GoToWebinar

Pricing + Participant Information: $49/mo. + 15 Participants/Graduated Cost Scale + Up to 1000 Participants
Sharing Features: Desktop + Applications + Drawing Tools
Security Application: SSL Encryption + End-to-End 128 Bit Encryption
Interaction Options: Chat + Call-In + Polls + Mobile
Special Features + Consideration: GoToWebinar is a really slick program, built off of the GoToMeeting brand/platform. The interface is easy to manage, and there are lots of presentation and interaction options. Post-meeting report generation is quite helpful, as are automated follow-ups to attendees, including Outlook integration for ease of calendaring. Customized branding is also available. The capability for presenters to mute call-in lines is essential for managing those uninitiated of the chat room. But, it appears that it’s true that you got to pay for what you get. GoToWebinar is great. You just gots to pay a lot for that muffler.

WebEx

Pricing + Participant Information: $49/mo. + 25 Participants/Larger Participant Packages by Quote
Sharing Features: Desktop + Documents w/ Annotation + Applications
Security Application: Encryption
Interaction Options: Chat + Call-In + Mutliple Webcams + Mobile
Special Features + Consideration: Backed by gigantic corporation Cisco (I eat your small company for breakfast), WebEx offers another slick platform for webconferencing. Multiple webcam sharing is pretty excellent, and the document annotation feature is useful for editing sessions. WebEx is not as smooth or richly-featured as GoToWebinar, but costs less, when you consider the added number of participants per price. Still, we’re not looking at DimDim-style cost effectiveness in this instance.

Join.Me

Pricing + Participant Information: Free + 250 Participants/$29/mo. + 250 Participants (+ added features)
Sharing Features: Screen Sharing + File Transfer/Send (NOT share)
Security Application: Pro features “Knock to Join” Option/Free System, Meetings are Open
Interaction Options: Chat + Call-In
Special Features + Consideration: Simplicity is the name of the game for Join.Me, which I first saw advertised on a city bus in Boston. This a straight screenshare program, with chat and call-in capability. The draw here is mostly for holders of quick, impromptu meetings (scheduling is available through the Pro version) . . . with lots and lots of people, potentially a web version flash mob. The allowed number of participants is impressive; however, the features are so limited, and basic, that I hesitate to recommend the program for professionals, especially for lawyers, who should feel very uncomfortable sharing confidential documentation through a service like this one. Join.Me is a LogMeIn product.

FuzeMeeting

Pricing + Participant Information: $29/mo. + 25 Participants/Graduated Cost Scale + Up To 100 Participants
Sharing Features: Desktop + Applications + File Share + Content Share (in HD)
Security Application: SSL Encryption
Interaction Options: Chat + Call-In + Mobile
Special Features + Consideration: When I got an HDTV a couple years back, I was like, “No big. I’ve seen TV before. How awesome can HD be?” Well, it’s pretty darn amazing. My wife likes to tell everyone I will only watch PBS documentaries in HD now, even though they’re basically a series of still photos. This is true. But, they look so damn good. Can you blame me? I was similarly impressed by Fuze’s unique offering of meetings in HD. It looks great, at least on the demo. The Fuze interface is pretty intuitive, and offers much on-the-fly functionality. The “FuzeIn” feature dials stragglers automatically, while you conduct your meeting. Contact integration is impressive, and is a big time-saver. Fuze also offers access to more mobile platforms than any other webconferencing system we’ve reviewed. Fuze offers a base pricing package similar to DimDim’s; and, although features are not co-extensive, Fuze has more unique features than DimDim offers.

Mikogo

Pricing + Participant Information: Free + 10 Participants
Sharing Features: Desktop + Applications + File Share + Whiteboard
Security Application: Encryption + Third Party Restricted Access
Interaction Options: Call-In (billed to each participant)
Special Features + Consideration: Given the lack of price, Mikogo is a pretty nifty service. It’s rather full-featured for a free webconference system; although, there are some major drawbacks, like the potential that your participants are charged for phoning in, which may make audio access, really, unreasonable or ineffective. Impressive features unique to free programs include: scheduling tools; a session player; and, presenter switching options. A long-form user guide is provided for industrious investigators. You could do much worse for a free webconferencing software–that is, if you can stand small numbers for access, and don’t really like talking on the phone anyway. BeamYourScreen is the enterprise version Mikogo, apparently launched by aliens obsessed with making the world safe for web video.

Vyew

Pricing + Participant Information: Free + 10-20 Participants/Graduated Cost Scale + Up To 150 Participants
Sharing Features: Desktop + Applications + Documents w/ Annotation + Whiteboard + Drawing Tools
Security Application: Partial SSL Encrytion
Interaction Options: Chat + Call-In + Webcam
Special Features + Consideration: Vyew is unique among the products we’ve reviewed in that many of their broad features are available across the free and pay editions. Unless you’re really into branding your meetings, or holding more than one meeting at a time, or you need to provide a lot of participants access at once, then the free version is really all you need. I’d call that a bargain. And, if you’re not into those things, but could get into them, the pay versions are still fairly ridiculously cheap for the webconferencing realm. This seems to be an ideal product for teachers, and those who consider themselves teachers–a web classroom module, as it were. Among the Vyew features that I like are: the support of many file extension types; content management options; and, an invitation manager function. The major caveat against the use of Vyew is the very sketchy security. Unless you’re comfortable with open meetings, it’s difficult to make the jump to this product, despite the free and cheap feature collection.

Not quite a Top Ten List; but, I’m actually trying not to shatter my record for blog post length this day–it is a prodigious record, after all, and I’d like to see that it remain standing. That being said, here are some other webconference options available, which you can check out on your own time, but which we did not deem meritorious of an chearlish breakdown: WebHuddle, GreenLight Collaboration, Infinite Conferencing, InterCall, Microsoft Office Live Meeting, MyMeeting 123, MegaMeeting, iLinc, WebConCentral, Adobe Connect and Yuuguu.

I’d like to say I’m leaving you in suspense in keeping from you what option we will choose to replace DimDim; but, I cannot tell a lie: I don’t know what we’re going to use yet, because we still have a month-and-a-half before the plug officially gets pulled on DimDim, and I don’t like to rush anything. Although, I will write in invisible ink the program that I think we’re going to move to: Yugma . . . or, maybe FuzeMeeting.

Damn. Ran out of invisible ink. And, I still can’t decide.

As always, but specifically in this instance, I am very appreciative of and grateful for the efforts of our expert and talented administrative assistant, Rachel Willcox, who reviewed the vast majority of these referenced products, providing some tremendous feedback and distilled information sets.

. . .

Liner Notes

When you think webconferencing, one of the first things that comes to mind is Roy Orbison.

Oh, hell. Roy Orbison has nothing to do with webconferencing. I just want to talk to you a little bit about Roy Orbison, and to get you listening up on him.

As regular followers of the Practice Advisor will recall, I am currently engaged in a death struggle with my iTunes library, and I intend for only the one of us to come out on the other side. Further, I intend to emerge victorious. I have been engaged for several months now in the Jared Correia Listening Project, which is me running through the 7,557 songs in my iTunes library, in order, by artist and album, rating each song as I go. I’m on “R”; so, I’m almost done. Specifically, I am on Roy Orbison. Also, Roy Orbison is on.

I’ve always found Roy Orbison to be a fascinating performer. He has such a unique voice; many have called it operatic; and, his vocal range yawns like the Grand Canyon. He was probably the lowest-slung pop star ever, and he could not have been called charismatic. Hell, I thought he was blind until I was 20 years old. As is the case with many a thing, though, it’s not the thing itself, but the associations that we make of it. So it is with Roy Orbison and me; Roy Orbison means more to me than the music that he sings, or who he is. My grandmother used to own a mammoth record player/8-track player combination, which was just about the most gargantuan and ungainly piece of furniture that you can imagine. (It was delivered by zeppelin.) I used to spin records all the time when I was over there. My grandmother just happened to be a huge Roy Orbison fan, and had a number of his albums, and so we used to listen to Roy together all the time. It w
as only later that Roy Orbison experienced a career renaissance, assisted by his joining up with the Traveling Wilburys, as Lefty Wilbury. But, whenever I hear another Roy Orbison song, his voice warbling through another chorus, I take the occasion to remember my grandmother, and that is certainly a good thing.

Roy Orbison’s career can be divided into two distinct stages: early successes featuring traditional songs and a late-career renaissance, which periods served as bookends for a meso-dryspell.

Roy Orbison’s early career was filled with hits that have become standards, most notably: “Oh, Pretty Woman” (‘take two‘), “Only the Lonely” and “It’s Over”. “Love Hurts”, “Crying” and “Pretty Paper” offer heavy doses of pain and angst and regret, if even in Christmas wrapping. “Uptown”, “Working for the Man” and “Mean Woman Blues” are heavier numbers with distinct appeal. “Dream Baby” and “Candy Man” have a sensual edge that most early Orbison tracks lack.

Despite a string of hits like those presented above, Roy Orbison disappeared somewhere along the line. Then came the Traveling Wilburys, a supergroup made up of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Orbison, all going by aliases. The Traveling Wilburys’ “Volume 1” was a huge hit record, with lead tracks “Handle With Care” and “End of the Line”. Orbison was featured on those tracks, and displayed his singular vocal talents in fronting “Not Alone Anymore” and on an impressive cameo with Petty on lead vocals for “Last Night”. The unreleased track, “Heartbreak Radio” is Roy at his rollickin’ best.

All of a sudden, Roy Orbison was a superstar again, and in the highest demand. Producer extraordinaire Jeff Lynne and Petty worked with Orbison to write and produce the “Mystery Girl” album, which ended up being a staggeringly immense hit record.

Late period Roy Orbison featured a more polished sound, chiseled by the pop songcraft of Jeff Lynne, chiefly, though among others. However, it was still the same in that the music was the showcase for the uniquely fixed voice. “You Got It”, “After the Love Has Gone”, “California Blue” and “I Drove All Night” are representative tunes from the late Roytaceous epoch.

Sadly, Roy Orbison’s late period was to be a blue one. Following an exhaustive performance schedule, and when preparing to get home to finally get some rest, Roy Orbison died of a heart attack, directly at the height of his new-found popularity, and before his official comeback album, “Mystery Girl”, was finished and released. He was only 52 years old.

But, if you turn off the lights, close your eyes, and turn up your headphones, you can still hear Roy Orbison; and, his voice still carries.