Convoq Inc.s new Web conferencing service, Convoq ASAP, tackles the problem of finding the right people at the right time when starting impromptu Web conferences for small workgroups.
ASAP, which went live last month, considerably alters the pricing dynamic for Web conferencing services—pricing starts at $50 per user per year for five users. A 25-user license costs $100 per user per year, with overage charges of 15 cents per participant per minute. In contrast, WebEx Communications Inc.s WebEx Meeting Center costs $375 per user per month for five users. (Go to www.eWEEK.com/labslinks for a review of Meeting Center.)
eWEEK Labs tests of ASAP revealed a service that delivers a clever confluence of instant messaging and contact management to help manage "stand-ins" (Convoqs term for users who receive messages when selected contacts are offline) and to build groups that ensure the availability of a knowledgeable person for meetings.
Although this first version of ASAP has a handful of quirks that made it difficult to use at times, we believe it will be a cost-effective choice for Web-conferencing-based team collaboration.
ASAP offers three classes of contacts: VIPs, stand-ins and lifelines. Granting VIP status gives a user the ability to override anothers "do not disturb" mode. Users designate stand-in experts to be available when primary contacts are offline. Lifelines are groups of knowledgeable users, such as support staff, in which any individual can be contacted based on availability.
In addition to the advanced contact management options, ASAP offers an interesting wrinkle to the Web conference concept. Along with impromptu or scheduled Web conferences, ASAP provides a third option, allowing any member to schedule a meeting to start as soon as all parties become available.
The ASAP user interface could use improvement: The meeting scheduling interface is text-driven and doesnt work with Microsofts Outlook calendar, the way competitors such as WebExs Meeting Center can do. Uploading slides for a presentation was cumbersome as well.
ASAPs main components include the contact list, the Web conferencing and chat interface, and a system message console. Most communications among users, including exchanging contacts and invitations to join conferences, pass through this message console window. Wed rather see a smaller, dedicated IM window handle these communications as well as the Web conference chat window because these three components can clutter the users desktop.
ASAP makes it easier for companies to connect with outside consultants or partners; adding them to the system is relatively simple because they neednt be integrated with a companys directory.
The ASAP client works with Yahoo Inc.s Yahoo Messenger, American Online Inc.s AOL Instant Messenger and Microsofts MSN Messenger clients. This allowed us to connect with any user of those systems via the ASAP client.
Contacts and groups from the IM clients buddy list are mirrored in the ASAP contact list. Meeting invitations arrive in the IM message screen as URLs; joining a meeting requires only a browser with Macromedia Inc.s Flash player installed. Convoq also supports Microsofts Live Communications Server and IBMs Lotus Instant Messaging and Web Conferencing clients.
Technical Analyst Michael Caton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.