Free and Easy Web Conferencing

Click to see screenshotsFor many information and white collar workers, attending meetings and presentations remotely through Web-based conferencing applications is a weekly if not daily ritual. And while Web conferencing has improved since its early days, it can still be a hassle for many. For those workers who have to deal with multiple meetings hosted on multiple platforms, it often means having to install several different applications on the desktop just to attend these meetings. And businesses that run multiple meetings a week through one of the leading providers can find that the cost of these Web conferences can quickly add up. However, there's a new company that hopes to address some of issues, especially in the areas of plug-in hassles and cost. Dimdim is a new service for providing Web conferences that incorporates a few welcome twists. One, at Dimdim.com, users will be able to host and access basic Web conferences for free. Secondly, since Dimdim is based on Flash, no extra plug-ins are required to attend a meeting and attendees can use any platform to view a conference. Thirdly, the entire engine is open source and can be downloaded and run for free by any business. I had a chance to test the current beta version of Dimdim using the free hosted version at Dimdim.com. And while I liked some aspects of it, it is definitely a beta and has its fair share of usability annoyances and feature limitations. Using the main Web-based interface, I could easily create and manage meetings, scheduling them out for different times or starting one immediately. It is possible to add custom logos to meetings and use specialized buttons for joining meetings. While attendees use standard Flash, presenters need to install a special plug-in.

Click to see screenshotsdimdim
For many information and white collar workers, attending meetings and presentations remotely through Web-based conferencing applications is a weekly if not daily ritual.

And while Web conferencing has improved since its early days, it can still be a hassle for many. For those workers who have to deal with multiple meetings hosted on multiple platforms, it often means having to install several different applications on the desktop just to attend these meetings. And businesses that run multiple meetings a week through one of the leading providers can find that the cost of these Web conferences can quickly add up.

However, there's a new company that hopes to address some of issues, especially in the areas of plug-in hassles and cost. Dimdim is a new service for providing Web conferences that incorporates a few welcome twists.

One, at Dimdim.com, users will be able to host and access basic Web conferences for free. Secondly, since Dimdim is based on Flash, no extra plug-ins are required to attend a meeting and attendees can use any platform to view a conference. Thirdly, the entire engine is open source and can be downloaded and run for free by any business.

I had a chance to test the current beta version of Dimdim using the free hosted version at Dimdim.com. And while I liked some aspects of it, it is definitely a beta and has its fair share of usability annoyances and feature limitations.

Using the main Web-based interface, I could easily create and manage meetings, scheduling them out for different times or starting one immediately. It is possible to add custom logos to meetings and use specialized buttons for joining meetings. While attendees use standard Flash, presenters need to install a special plug-in.

Inviting attendees to a meeting was a simple matter of adding their e-mails to a list. One of the first gotchas I encountered was the problem of adding additional attendees after first creating a meeting. Each time I added a new attendee, every previous person who had been on the list received a whole new set of e-mails inviting them to the meeting. With a few additional attendees this led to some frustration for users who had been on the initial attendee list. It would be nice to just add new attendees and not have new invites sent out to everyone else. I also ran into some problems when I tried to move up the time of a meeting. Even though it showed the correct new time for the meeting, Dimdim wouldn't let me start the meeting, saying it was still scheduled for the later time.

Once a Web conference is up and running, Dimdim works pretty much as expected. I could show a PowerPoint presentation, share my desktop or an application, or display a shared whiteboard. For the most part, all of these features worked well, and since this is the core functionality of Web conferencing, this alone makes Dimdim worth a look.

I also tested the ability to use audio and video. From a strict presentation aspect, where one person speaks and everyone else listens, this worked fairly well, with both a Webcam picture displayed on the screen and audio working well.

However, if the intention is to have a back and forth audio meeting, then Dimdim wouldn't work as well, with much of the attendee discussions garbled or out-and-out unintelligible. For these types of meetings, a standard phone conference line used in conjunction with Dimdim would probably work better.

In its current beta state, Dimdim also lacks many core features that can be found in conferencing products from major vendors such as Microsoft and WebEx, including the important ability to record a Web conference meeting.

According to information on Dimdim.com, while a free hosted version will remain, a for-purchase enterprise version will also become available that includes all of the support and advanced features needed for enterprise-class conferencing.

The open-source version is currently in alpha but has some interesting aspects to it, including an integration tool kit and prebuilt integrations into other products such as SugarCRM. Click here for Information on the open-source version of Dimdim.