What’s The Difference Between Web 2.0 Audio Conferencing and Web Conferencing?

Web 2.0 audio conferencing is your anchor; web conferencing your color

The term “web conferencing” is confusing. Most technology people know what it means, but the average user does not. Users generally understand “conferencing,” but the “web” adjective is confusing because the “web” is a complex and ever-changing subject. It has gotten even more confusing with the advent of telephone over Internet, also called “voice over Internet protocol” or “VoIP.” Adding further to this confusion are current good-luck-you’re-on-your-own “free conference call” offers that might lead one to believe that the technology is so simple that it can be given away. This could not be further from the truth, now and into the foreseeable future.

Conferencing over routers vs. wires

Historically, all our communications tools worked independently of one another and they relied on dedicated networks. Ever so slowly, this autonomy began to change. We started sending fax messages over voice phone lines, then began interconnecting  websites. Those technologies used the traditional phone networks that connected phones with wires. Eventually a different way to switch these signals emerged, one that used “data packets” and “routers.” This network technology theoretically allowed any kind of data (fax, voice, files) to be transmitted over the same network. Slowly, various communications technologies are migrating to this packet approach, which opens many new possibilities for the devices that connect to the network.

Convergence is the coming together of previously disconnected technologies

Phones can now take on web functions and vice versa. Data files can include voice, fax, video and images in the same transmission. This is sometimes called “convergence.”

Web 2.0 audio conferencing bridges the best of phone and data

Web 2.0 conference calling describes a new generation of these converged technologies specifically associated with audio conferencing. In this brave new technology world, audio conferencing presents unique technical challenges that only a handful of companies have addressed to date. Whereas a telephone call is predictable in that two devices connect and two people talk, a conference call may have 3 people or 300 people on the same call. The technical challenges between 3 and 300 are formidable; it is exponentially easier to connect 3 people than 300. For example, 300 people have 300 different end-point devices, 300 different network connections and 300 different participants. These 300 people expect to dial a number and have the system work just the same as if they were calling their neighbors–same clarity, same quality, same reliability.

Web 2.0 audio conferencing differs from same-old-same-old traditional audio conferencing by enabling numerous “cross-over” capabilities like monitoring and control of the call over the web, real-time call history and billing over the web, management of multiple PINs and multiple accounts from mobile phones, and initiating group calls instantly, to name just a few.

Compare the technologies for an audio conference and a web conference

Now let’s compare Web 2.0 conference calling with a 300-person “web conference.” An audio conference is keeping 300 telephone devices in synch, and a “web conference” is keeping 300 web pages viewing the same thing, but the differences between a phone conference and web conference are striking. A phone conference must be “in synch,” or in other words, everyone needs to hear the same thing at the same time. A web conference by contrast works to keep 300 views of the host’s presentation in more or less close synch. Full synching in a web conference is impossible when one considers that one participant may be on a slow dial-up connection and another may be sitting on a  high-speed broadband connection.

Audio conferencing needs real-time voice synch; Web conferencing pushes sorta-synched computer screens

Most web conferencing providers are attempting voice over Internet connections to broadcast voice and video simultaneously, but the out-of-synch problems relating to those 300 web connections makes the voice part unworkable. The fact is, web conferencing providers use separate audio conferencing providers, even if that is not obvious to the customer. The real-time synching demands of voice vs. the less-critical need for such real time synching when pushing web page views of a presentation make Web 2.0 audio conferencing and web conferencing very different, but related challenges.

Both technologies support “conferencing,” but the underlying technology needs and expertise are apples and oranges. When users pick up the phone, they expect dial tone. When users go on the web, reliability is hit or miss. One never knows when the tech department or the local Internet Service Provider may decide to take down the network for an upgrade! When a user joins a phone conference, they expect a real time synch as if everyone is in the same room. When a user joins a web conference, the time it takes to get a particular presentation slide is not as critical as hearing what the presenter is saying and being able to respond in real time.

Web 2.0 conference calling bridges voice and data without forcing the participants to get in front of a computer for every conference

We are visual creatures, so web conferencing is here to stay. That said, many, maybe even most phone conversations needn’t include what is sometimes dubbed a “death by PowerPoint” presentation.  Web 2.0 audio conferencing fills the gap between traditional audio conferencing and web conferencing for most applications. It brings the best of the web to audio conferencing without burdening every conference with the need to watch something online, or forcing a participant to sit in front of a video camera without moving for fear the other participants will think he is not paying rapt attention as the presenter drones on (!)

Web 2.0 liberation vs. mandatory operator assistance and good-luck-you’re-on-your-own “free conference calls”

Audio conferencing, done right, should work as effortlessly as picking up your phone. The differences end there! Bridging a 300-person audio conference and making sure everyone hears the same thing at high quality requires specialized technologies managed by people who know what they are doing. Web 2.0 audio conferencing liberates the user from the need to call an operator on every call. It also enhances the user experience well beyond the same-old-same old limited features set of the past. It takes much of the technical knowledge, automates it, and puts it in the user’s hands. Web designers don’t have this knowledge. Software programmers building nice web pages don’t have this knowledge either; neither do web conferencing providers and “free conference call” providers. Web 2.0 audio conferencing providers, by contrast, have programmed this telephone knowledge into their offerings.

Anchor vs. color commentator

Think of the two technologies this way. Web 2.0 audio conferencing is your anchorperson in sports broadcasting and web conferencing is the color commentator. Users will need both as convergence continues to bring the telephony and data worlds closer together, but of the two, Web 2.0 audio conferencing will be your anchor “must have” communications tool.

To learn more, Google “Web 2.0 audio conferencing”.

Copyright 2011. Leader Phone and Michael McKibben. All Rights Reserved.

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