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Video Conferencing and Desktop Sharing

My dad works at Polycom in the video conferencing division, so I’ve seen and heard about all manner of (hardware based) video conferencing over the years. It always seemed like a good idea — right? — and I’ve been in many conference rooms with Polycom and other people’s equipment where we both had video conferencing work flawlessly and fail utterly.

Obviously, in the consumer space “video conferencing” or “web-cams” are a big deal. They’re fun, even if you’re not doing porn! But, in business, I’ve never gotten the feel that video conferencing took off. After 9/11, there was a slight optimism in the air and the billboards to and fro the AUS. Now, I’m not saying that video conferencing “failed,” just that it didn’t reach a sort of “everyone’s doin’ it” momentum. For example, when a new company starts, they don’t think, “first thing we gotta do is get some video conferencing gear.”

Desktop Sharing “Distraction”

As I was trying to hunt down a WebEx plugin to play this webinar on OS X (side-note: AHHH! WebEx!), I got to thinking: WebEx and friends are certainly a, though not the, nail in the coffin of hardware based video conferencing. Now, the difference is desktop sharing: it turns out people really, really want to share their desktops (to run presentations and do demos) rather than just see each other. Now, while I absolutely hate having a presentation over desktop sharing vs. just getting the PDF or PPT, people seem to love it. Thankfully IBM, Sun, Eclipse, and many of our more long-term clients make it a practice of sending over the presentation. Funny side-note: new companies usually go through the cycles of using WebEx, hating it, and then just emailing out presentations.

But, desktop sharing focus makes me think that seeing someone’s face in remote-meetings is over-rated. That applies, at least and perhaps “only,” in the software development and briefing/consulting context I’m thinking of: I have no idea what the uptake is in health, military, and other verticals. I sure wouldn’t be a big fan of always having my face on in every briefing I do: I’d have to comb my hair and wear a nice shirt all the time! Man, and what’s more dorky looking than wearing a headset?


On one of my briefings with SXIP, Dick Hardt had the video portion turned on in Acrobat Connect (née the much better named “Breeze”) and it was actually quite nifty…but then I just maximized the presentation.

To my mind, then, it seems like there’s room for partnerships and integration between folks like Polycom on one side, and WebEx and Adobe on the other. It seems like both sides would benefit greatly from being able to cross-launch into each other. I’m sure Cisco is drooling over the idea. I don’t follow the video conferencing space at all, so I’m not even sure if that’s already happening.

Disclaimer: IBM, Sun, and Eclipse are clients. As is, or will be, Adobe. Like I said, my dad works at Polycom, so take that thorny bias however you like ;>

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Categories: Companies, Compliance, Conferences, Enterprise Software.

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5 Responses

  1. how funny – i was talking about dad bloggers to my dad about an hour ago. i said i wondered when your dad was starting one… but then i realised i know nothing about your old man at all. i do know – telepathic intertwingling is always fun.

  2. There’s a very funny section in David Foster Wallace’s novel ‘Infinite Jest’ (set in the near future) where it talks about all of the problems that videoconference becoming common placed caused people … along the lines of people using software to make people look better than they actually do taken to the extreme that a person’s appearance on camera didn’t remotely resemble their actual appearance.

    Anyway, DFW says it better than I do 🙂

  3. In general, the utility of the video part of videoconferencing seems to me to be great in theory, but underwhelming after a while in practice. It beats phone conferencing in one aspect: one can see who is talking (more or less, depends on lighting in the room, number of participants in front of the camera, etc), so one has a better chance to figure out who the voice speaking belongs to.

    But the price to pay for that is eternal hell of having many more layers of complexity than phone conferencing that can, and often enough do go wrong.

  4. That’s an interesting angle as well. I often think that I’d rather have all briefings (where I’m just sucking down info and asking questions) over the phone as it’s easier to take notes, look things up, and other wise be The Listener sitting at a desk over the phone.

    Consulting is another thing entirely, but I find that the being on the phone (cutting out the human visual?) is a much more focused way to be briefed then in person.

    On the other hand, I might just feel awkward typing face-to-face when I shouldn’t. James certainly has no problem with it, which I always envy him.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] People Over Process » Blog Archive » Video Conferencing and Desktop Sharing So much web worker daily fodder in here. I hate WebEx… have never gotten it to work on my Mac yet. Had a Glance demo this week though, very nice. (tags: video-conferencing desktop-sharing webex wwd) […]