Technology in Practice. What Works? Who Gets it?
With constantly rising travel costs and many lawyers working harder than ever, going to meetings out of the office can be difficult. Many are turning to Web-based conferencing as a solution. Although features vary based on the package you select, these systems usually incorporate the ability to share documents, presentations and desktop screens, and they also offer whiteboard, attendee polling, voice and even video capabilities. The price can add up-but the good news is that a number of lower-cost providers are entering the field.
I've used Web-based conferencing for years, and probably the best-known players in the market areWebEx (www.webex.com), which is owned by Cisco Systems, and GoToMeeting (www.gotomeeting.com), owned by Citrix. Both of these companies have strong technology backgrounds and offer a number of real-time collaboration services for law firms, irrespective of size and geographical distances. GoToMeeting, for example, offers what it bills as "All You Can Meet" plans allowing for unlimited meetings with no time limitations for up to 15 attendees for each meeting, for a flat fee starting at $49 per month. There is also the company's GoToWebinar service, which offers event-planning features and allows for up to 1,000 attendees for $99 a month. WebEx offers pay-per-use meeting plans, as well as monthly plans starting at $69 per month for up to 25 attendees that also include free VoIP services. You can also purchase annual subscriptions to decrease the monthly cost a bit.
However, even the discounted rates can become expensive, especially if all your meeting attendees don't have VoIP capability, since in most uses the teleconferencing service provided is usually not toll-free. This is where a number of newer Web conferencing services are coming to the fore. Among them are Yakkle, Yuuguu and DimDim, which made their appearances on the market in 2008 and are seeing increasing interest from lawyers looking for alternatives to the more costly commercial providers. While the exact options offered by these three services differ slightly, they all generally provide some free capabilities for Web-based meetings between users.
- Yakkle appears to have its roots in the social networking community, as evidenced by its focus on instant messaging (IM) tools, Gmail and Twitter integration. It includes desktop and document sharing, VoIP and remote control services, but no videoconferencing. Yakkle is a free application. A potential downside, though, is that it requires installation on your computer, and anyone you wish to connect with must also have Yakkle installed.
- Yuuguu is clearly aiming for the busness user and includes business-class IM, screen sharing and remote desktop control. It also makes available low-cost conference calling services when members need more than the included tools for communicating. You can meet with up to 30 people at a time for free, and a plus for Yuuguu is that it's multi-OS capable, working on Windows, Mac and Linux systems. However, as with Yakkle, you have to install the Yuuguu application on your computer and the people you connect with must also install it. Professional and Enterprise versions are advertised as being in the works.
- DimDim is the offering that most resembles the traditional Web conferencing services such as GoToMeeting and WebEx. DimDim is built on open source, and it doesn't require downloading any software. In addition to features such as screen sharing, whiteboard capabilities, VoIP, presentation of PDFs and PowerPoints, IM and private chat (i.e., one on one with another person), it includes Webcam and recording capabilities and supports multiple presenters and up to 20 attendees at no fee. DimDim also offers a Pro Edition for $99 per year (yes, per year, not month), which gives you guaranteed uptime as well as two-way video chat and the ability to custombrand your meeting space, with 24-hour support response included. Note that the $99 price covers a single user/meeting room and 20 attendees. If you need to include more attendees, you can add them in groups of 20 for an additional $99 per group.
For larger organizations with more frequent meetings, DimDim Enterprise turns it up a notch by adding the capability to host multiple simultaneous meetings with up to 1,000 attendees. You can elect to install DimDim Enterprise on your own servers or have the company host it for you. The Enterprise Edition starts at $1,999 for 20 simultaneous users/meeting rooms with up to 1,000 attendees per room. Good to know if you're in a big firm, but for most of us one of the free or lower-cost products should do the deal just fine.