Sunday, April 4, 2010

Virtual User Group Options

The SLCDUG (Salt Lake City Delphi Users Group) is going to do some of it's meetings on-line.  

I started researching many options of what technlogy to use, with the following factors playing into my decision:

  1. Cost, since we don't collect dues the cost needs to be small enough that I can personally handle it if there is not a sponsor willing to pick up the tab.   
  2. Options are available to make this more like a local users group meeting than pre-scripted webinar presentation. 
  3. We have attendance in the past year at anywhere from 4 people to 50 people.    Because our virtual meetings will be available to everyone on the Internet, we need a solution that supports at least 100 people.

I was surprised to find that there is not a ton of un-biased reviews.   For example the most compressive review of GoToWebinar was done by a Cisco employee the company that produces Webex.    With that in mind I knew I could not depend on others research.   So I setup multiple computers in my home all signed up for the trial offers of the following companies and this is what I found in my comparision.

Price: $99/Month
Max Attendees: 100 @ $99 * 500 @ $399  *  1000 @ $499
OS Supported: Windows, MAC
Trial Length: 30 Days

  • Interface was easy to use.
  • Control windows are not broadcast
  • Ability to view only one application instead of the entire desktop.
  • Support for VOIP and Telephone conferencing for presenters and/or Attendees
  • May unmute either option quickly via software.
  • Up to 25 People could be unmuted.
  • Good registration and Tracking of who attended.
  • Was able to show a small video clip without slow down.
  • Ability to share or hide Attendees List
  • Easy to schedule future meetings
  • Ability to make someone else the presenter without reconnecting
  • No support for Web Cams
  • No Support Linux
  • Can not be run from a virtual machine
Price:  Contact Sales (Scared here as 25 users is $49/Month but I have sent an email request)
Max Attendees: 500 (Meeting Center Product) 3000 (Event Center Product)
OS Supported: Windows, MAC, Solaris, Unix, Linux, 3G Enabled Smart phones (IPhone, Blackberry, Nokia, etc)
Trial Length: 14 Days (Meeting Center) unable to trial Event Center

  • Control windows are not broadcast
  • Optional support to allow attendees to chat with each other.
  • Ability to Share or Hide Attendee List
  • Ability to make someone else the presenter without reconnecting
  • Easy way to schedule future meetings
Cons: (Based on Meeting Center)

  • No way to register for a meeting.
  • No way to see reports on who attended after meeting.
  • Interface seemed to get in the way more than I wanted.
  • Had Problems starting a 2nd Meeting after first trial meeting.
  • Users Joining meeting were prompted to join 14 day trial (Our attendees are not their customers!)
Price:  $22.50/Month  ($4.50 per user per month min 5 Users)
Initially this was confusing but figured it out.  Each Organizer need a license, attendees don't so the minimum license count will work for our situation)
Max attendees: 250 (Can get up to 1250 if you pay $16 per User)
OS Supported: Windows, any Java supported OS (Java Version does not support VOIP)
Trial Length: 30 Days (It's all of Microsoft on-line services, not just LiveMeeting)

  • Price is very good.
  • Ability to Show or Hide Attendee List
  • Ability to allow Users to Create own Personal Recording
  • Optional Pre Registration 
  • Embarcadero Uses it for CodeRage so people are familiar with it.
  • Organizers are required to use a Sign In Application, that reconfigures Outlook.
  • Most Difficult (As an Organizer) to get setup initially
  • Web Version does not support VOIP / Clients must Download Live Meeting to get VOIP
  • Only supports External Phone Conferencing Providers, not provided by Default.
  • If I allow all attendees to have MIC access, I can't control the Mute.   They can unmute themselves at will.  You can mute everyone but yourself but they can turn around and unmute immediately.
Price: $75/Month (DimDim Webinar Version) (There is a Free version for 20 or less attendees)
Max Attendees: 1000
OS Supported: Windows, Mac, and Modern Browser that supports Flash.
Trial Length: 30 Days

  • Optional Public Group Chat
  • Poor Support for Question and Answers, Private Chat was the only option.
  • Registration Support
  • Phone or VIOP Support
  • Price for smaller meetings
  • Cool count down timer and Registration Widget to embed on site later
  • Open API for setup of Meetings. (although: Lacked in Meeting API controls)
  • Will host Recordings
  • Shared Browsing Feature
  • Speed of switching content views.
  • Only can share whole desktop.  Annoying Red box around screen.
  • No built in Polling
  • Registration Required Field are not changable (I don't care about phone number but DimDim makes it required)
  • Several Support Forums, with no clear direction where to go.  They were confusing at best.
  • Recording will not record everything, currently does not support white board or shared browsing

Common Problems regardless of option:
  • Unable to Broadcast PC Audio without setting up, Sound Mix and disabling your Mic or using a second PC/Mixer Board.   
Right now I am leaning to LiveMeeting because of price, but my favorite is GotoWebinar, its features are far more robust and would go along way in making the session seem more like a local user group meeting.

I am interested in feedback on those that have experience in using these technologies or other options I did not review.

Update:  Added DimDim to the list of products reviewed


  1. Robert:

    I read about this product recently.

    If you can self-host, it is free (Open Source).


  2. Thanks for letting me know I will have to review it when I get back to my Home. But by reading the web page materials it looks very promising.

  3. Hi Rob, I haven't participated myself, but I know that the guys from Virtual ALT.NET ( use LiveMeeting for their Virtual meetings.

    Another suggestion, is that if the Delphi Community is interested in having these virtual meetings it might be worth us committing a few dollars each so that you can purchase the required licenses to run these meetings. Once something like this gets started I'm sure it will gather a lot of momentum from the rest of the Community.

  4. Don,

    Thanks I have reviewed DimDim.
    Self Hosting is really not an option. DimDim looks like a product that was taking shape not one very mature.