Web Conferencing Vendors Push into Video, CRM

Raindance launches a new release with voice-activated video feeds, while WebEx partners with Saleforce.com for extra reach.

Web conferencing vendors are branching out with better integration of video into online meetings and links into customer relationship management applications.

In separate announcements on Monday, Raindance Communications Inc. launched its latest Web conferencing release with new voice-activate desktop video features, while WebEx Communications Inc. announced a partnership with Web-based CRM vendor Salesforce.com Inc.

With its new release, called Raindance Meeting Edition, Raindance is targeting more-frequent meetings where multiple participants interact rather than the familiar one-to-many presentation approach, said Brian Burch, Raindances chief marketing officer.

The addition of video capabilities draws on that approach. Raindance Meeting Edition meshes video with Raindances public-switched telephone network audio bridge, a feature called "follow-talker," allowing it to recognize who is speaking. It then displays the video feed of the speaker and dynamically switches the feed as the speaker changes, Burch said.

"Having multiple video feeds open can be distracting," Burch said. "You dont care so much about seeing everyone at the same time but seeing who is talking."

Besides the video features, the new release has focused on simplifying the process for launching online meetings. Raindance Meeting Edition integrates with Microsoft Outlook for scheduling a meeting and for one-click access to launch a meeting and provides a desktop icon for starting a Web conference.

On the audio side, it also eliminates the need for call-in numbers and PINs by providing an automated attendant feature that calls participants when they log into a Web conference. Another new feature provides bandwidth detection for application sharing so that the content served to a user matches that users bandwidth capabilities.

Raindance Meeting Edition, available now, is a hosted service and requires Windows 98, 2000 or XP. Raindance, of Louisville, Colo., is working on a Mac OS X version that should be out within the next two quarters, Burch said.

Pricing varies depending on the size of meetings but include unlimited access to the meeting room. Pricing for a maximum of five users is $274.95 a month, while 10 users costs $399.95 month. Raindance offers custom pricing for a larger number of concurrent users, up to 125 users. Minutes for audio are charged separately.

For its part, WebEx, of San Jose, Calif., is expanding access to its Web conferencing service through plans to tie its MediaTone Network for online communications with San Francisco-based Salesforce.coms CRM service. The two companies have agreed to integrate their technology, through Salesforce.coms sforce development platform. They also will promote a joint offering, which is set to be available in the summer.

The integration will allow customers to launch a WebEx meeting directly from Salesforce.com as well as to capture information from a meeting in the CRM service.

WebEx Chairman and CEO Subrah Iyar, in a statement, said the partnership meshes with WebExs goal of linking with other applications and services. In October, WebEx struck a deal with Yahoo Inc. that allows WebEx meetings to be launched directly from Yahoos Business Messenger instant messaging service.

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