Over the last seven years, I have become very familiar with what various web conferencing solutions offer. Each has its own set of benefits and drawbacks. Since we can’t get all the manufacturers to come together to build a single super web conferencing tool — we’ll just have to stick with the tool that best fits our needs. I have used Adobe Connect for many years now, and it does fit most of my requirements well. I’ll show how Connect does and doesn’t fit my needs.
Keeping that in mind, what do I expect from a web conferencing tool?
I’d like to see the term changed to Web Collaboration tool. This is due to the fact that these tools (Adobe Connect, WebEx, GoTo Meeting, etc.) have moved away from simply being vehicles for you to deliver a lecture via the Internet. They offer so much more. There is the ability to collaborate live on a single object or program, interactive content can be loaded into many of these solutions, providing a rich experience to users, and we can use live video and other media options to put the human element back into these sessions.
Gone are the days of the ‘man behind the curtain’ feel of web collaboration sessions (unless that is the feeling you are looking for).
This isn’t really an expectation, but more of an accurate name for what these tools offer.
Below are some of my expectations. Now, I don’t expect to match up 100% to what everyone else wants, and that is the beauty of having options in the market place, but from what I have seen, these are fairly common needs.
Simple User Interface
Nobody wants to spend half of a one hour session teaching the participants how to effectively listen, watch and ask questions. A complicated or difficult to understand user interface (UI) can be the biggest killer to any product. Making the ability to have a live conversation difficult to find and initiate will override any of the other amazing features of a web collaboration tool. I want to be able to join a live session and be able to easily find all the major functions that I will commonly use. This can include text chat, broadcasting my audio from phone/VoIP, sharing my screen, sharing a document, broadcasting live video, etc. Keep the UI clean and simple with obvious icons and text.
Connect has evolved over the last few versions to have a clean and relatively simple UI. Although, there are still some features that could stand to have some improvements (that pod options menu is hard to explain and hard to remember for new users). However, all of the major functions used in the meeting room are easily found and leveraged.
Having the ability to create my collaboration space once and then use it as I need is a huge benefit. Maybe I’m spoiled by getting to use Connect, but I don’t know if I could live without this feature now that I have seen it.
What is persistence in terms of web collaboration? It is the ability to create an online meeting space once, and have it available 24/7/365 for use with scheduled or ad-hoc sessions. It also means that that the online space remains in the exact state I leave it in, so I can pre-load content and assets for use in future sessions. This does also mean that I have to go back and play clean up after a session, but this can be done quickly in Connect. With the new “Reset Layouts” function in Connect 9.1, the room can be returned to match the template from which it was created. Think of it as the ‘factory reset’ button.
Simple Document Sharing
The ability to quickly (and without much thought or effort) share my documents, spread sheets and other resources, both visually and through a file transfer function is a large need of my web collaboration sessions. Who doesn’t need to show a document or a PPT presentation in the world of web collaboration?
Connect’s ability to do this is OK. Gone are the days of needing to use FlashPaper (some of you will appreciate that), but Connect still limits the type of file to be uploaded to PDF or PPT(X) (which are converted to Flash presentations using the Adobe Presenter conversion engine). The solution for DOC(X), XLS(X), or any other document type is screen sharing. This can work, but it is processor and bandwidth intensive, and not an ideal solution. What I wouldn’t give for Connect to have an inline PDF generator, allowing me to drop a DOC file in the share pod and have it convert and display it as PDF. I know it wouldn’t be editable in the meeting, but it would save me the time for document conversion prior to the session as well as bandwidth demand on me and my audience.
Extensions or Additional Functionality
Built in functionality is great. It is a list of functions and features that you can count on being there. The problem comes from when you want something more from your tool. Most collaboration tools don’t offer the ability to create custom functionality for your live sessions. Connect has had an open API and SDK for developing custom applications to run in Connect. This has meant that if you can dream it, it can likely be done in Connect. The biggest drawback is that you need to know how to develop a Flash application or have a resource that can. For those of us who don’t play in ActionScript, there is the Extensions page for Connect where you can find many free or low cost tools to add to your live session and help increase the interaction and attention given by your attendees.
There are, of course, more things that I could call out, but those are my big four. Having the ability to easily achieve these things can lead to an easy to use, engaging and interesting web collaboration tool. The most challenging situation faced by holding online sessions is keeping the human element in the session. If the difficulty of use or lack of engagement takes over, you then lose participants and your message is not communicated effectively. Whatever tool you do decide to use, try to have fun with it and engage your audience.
Do you have other functions of what you consider a ‘need’ in your Web Collaboration tool? Leave a comment below.
Want to have a conversation with us about Web Collaboration or Adobe Connect? Drop us a line.
At RealEyes we’ve found it is absolutely crucial that Adobe Connect buyers understand the available licensing structure or have a resource on hand that can be used to answer questions that may come up. In some cases, we’ve found that the licensing parameters were never properly explained in pre-purchase discussions, and the resulting deployment may not be as beneficial to the end user as they initially thought. Because there is no documentation available that goes in-depth about the licensing models (how they work, limitations, advantages, etc.), please consider this post as a reference point.
What we will not cover in this post however is pricing. Since the pricing is dependent on which vertical you fall into (Commercial, Education, Government, Non-Profit, etc.). Pricing is something that should be discussed with your vendor. Please feel free to contact us if you have question about pricing.
First and foremost, it is important to point out that Connect is available in a few different flavors:
- On-Premise (Enterprise) – This deployment is typically hosted on your server(s), and behind your firewall. Since it is a server platform product, it is subject to perpetual licensing. This means that the server software itself and all licensing must be purchased initially, but thereafter (year 2, year 3, etc.) only the Maintenance & Support is required to be purchased annually. M&S is required at time of purchase, and is normally 20% of the total Connect product purchase. In some cases, special exceptions and/or agreements, contracts, etc. have been established and agreed upon by the end user(s) and Adobe, so they may differ. Please visit the Adobe Platinum Maintenance & Support homepage for further details. Please also note that On-Premise deployments can also be a Managed Service offering; meaning that the deployment is an On-Premise installation that is managed by another company.
- Hosted (SaaS) – This works is also known and referred to as a Software as a Service (SaaS) model. In this case, your Adobe Connect deployment is hosted on Adobe’s reserved server clusters. That being said, you are behind Adobe’s firewalls. In some cases, having your account Hosted may or may not be the best solution. It is always best to first check with your IT Dept., Systems Admin, etc. to see what may or may not be a requirement. Since there may be several compliance regulations that your institution may need to adhere to, or if you may need full integration with other pre-existing server based products, Adobe’s servers may be able to suffice, but those kinds of questions cannot be answered here and now, as the scenarios tend to vary greatly. Hosted account purchases through resellers typically include baseline standard Adobe Connect Help and Support.
- Adobe Connect Managed Services (Enterprise & SaaS) – This deployment is hosted on dedicated server(s) and managed by Adobe Systems. It includes all of the benefits of an Enterprise deployment, (adhering to your firewall settings, LDAP and/or AD integration, etc) but since it requires no internal network administration, it feels like a SaaS deployment. It is a perpetual licensing model where all licensing must be purchased initially, and must be renewed annually. In some cases, special exceptions and/or agreements, contracts, etc. have been established and agreed upon by the end user(s) and Adobe, so they may differ. Please contact us directly if you have questions about the Adobe Connect Managed Services option. An overview on Adobe Connect Managed Services can be viewed and/or downloaded (.pdf) here.
Note: On-Premise deployments can also be managed by other 3rd party companies have various managed service offerings.
Next, are the available Modules for Connect and their correlating licensing models.
- Concurrent Learner – These licenses are indicative of the Training Module within Connect, and therefore will enable it. With this licensing model, it enables Connect to deploy Curriculums and/or Courses on the system. Any enrolled users will have their results tracked via the lightweight LMS that Connect offers. The concurrency portion translates to having the ability to have up to the total amount of licenses purchased online at any given time having their results tracked systematically. For instance, if you purchase 100 Concurrent Learner licenses, you have the ability to have up to, but no more than, 100 enrollees online concurrently having their results tracked. Unlimited Curriculums and/or Courses can be created, and you can enroll an unlimited amount of users, but you are capped at how many concurrent licenses you have. So if you have 1,000 enrollees and only 100 licenses, only 100 enrollees can be tracked at any given time, and the remaining enrollees will have their results tracked once the first enrollees have completed the training and logged out of the system.
- Concurrent User: These licenses are indicative of the Meeting Module within Connect, and therefore will enable it. With this licensing, the total number of licenses you purchase will be the total number of users that can be online in a live meeting at any given time, either hosting or attending a meeting. These licenses do not have to be assigned or applied to named individuals, they can be generalized. However, the concurrency principal described above is still relevant in this case. This model works as a “licensing pool” per se.
- Named Host: These licenses are also indicative of the Meeting Module within Connect, and therefore will enable it. With this licensing, a Named Host can host a Connect Meeting at any given time of up to 100 attendees. The licensing model itself refers to a named, specific user (cannot be a general login) that is in the Meeting Hosts System Group. For instance, if you purchase 15 Named Host licenses, you have the ability to place up to 15 people in the Meeting Hosts System Group. Each of the people in that group can have up to 100 attendees (internal users and/or external users, etc.) in any Meeting Room that they’ve created. This licensing model is best used for frequent usage in Meeting Rooms, or also very adequate for webinars that will not exceed 100 attendees. This is currently the most popular licensing model.
Note: Named Host and Concurrent User cannot co-exist on any Connect deployment, as they are both representative of the Meeting Module
- Content Publish: Also known as Author licenses. These licenses are indicative of Content Module within Connect, and therefore will enable it. This will give anyone placed in the Authors System Group the ability to publish Content to Adobe Connect for on-demand access. For instance, if you purchase 15 Content Publish licenses, you have the ability to place up to 15 people in the Authors System Group.
Note: Content Publish licenses are not applicable in On-Premise Connect deployments, as the Content Module is automatically enabled because the Content will be directly published to your server*
Available add-on Modules for Adobe Connect.
- Seminar Rooms: Typically used for webinars, large meetings, etc. A Seminar Room compared to a Meeting Room is like an auditorium compared to a classroom. Seminar Rooms are meant to handle a higher amount of connections. They are priced on a per seat basis. For Hosted deployments, there is a minimum of 200 seats, and a maximum of 1,500 seats. Further, a 30 Day Seminar Room can also be purchased and added for a “one off” event(s), and will be valid for 30 days after implementation. The same seating rules (200 minimum, 1,500 maximum) apply for 30 Day Seminar Rooms.
For On-Premise deployments, it is a minimum of 200 seats as well, and there is no set maximum. It is very important to note that the maximum amount of connections into one Adobe Connect Server is 500. If a higher number is needed, an additional Connect Server (or servers, depending on the account’s capabilities, additional licensing, etc.) is recommended for load balancing.
- Events Module: Also known as Adobe Connect for webinars. The Events Module will give the ability to create custom landing pages tied to any Meeting Rooms, Seminar Rooms, or Virtual Classrooms. When enabled and configured, the Events Module will automatically register and track all attendees that register for the event itself, and report the data into Connect. The data can then be downloaded for future follow-ups, etc.
- WebCast: This is another available licensing model/add-on that is for large events (up to 80,000 attendees). Purchasing and enabling this add-on is also for “one off” event(s), and has set pricing for all verticals. WebCast has the ability to manage all facets of large events, from registration, to post-event follow up and all tracking capability. For further information and pricing, please contact your reseller directly.
Feel free to check out the Adobe Connect Homepage, it is a great resource when you have questions about Connect.
If you have immediate questions contact us directly.
Working as a Solutions Engineer, Trainer, Sales Rep, etc. is a task in and of itself. However, it also provides a skill set that not too many people possess, and I value having the ability to, “wear many hats”. Even though I have a little head, I love it!
With that all being said, I’ve been able to devise what compels businesses, EDU institutions, Government Agencies, etc. to look to a solution like Adobe Connect in the first place.
1.) Budget – Ok folks, let’s face it. The recession in our economy has impacted everyone to some extent, but it’s imperative in the face of adversity to stand strong and continue onward and upward, right? Adobe Connect offers many features that are an appealing lot to those with budget restraints now versus what they faced before, and Connect facilitates that. Having the ability to utilize Internet connectivity as a means to bring everyone into the same place at the same time for a collaboration session can be worth its weight in gold in some instances. Bringing a whole bunch of people in for a meeting, training, conference, etc. can cost a serious chunk of change. Here’s a neat little app that exemplifies how much Connect can potentially save you.
2.) eLearning/Training – I guess when I was back in school I never really appreciated the value of consistency in education. I can recall when my teachers seemed less excited about class than the day before. I can also recall when some teachers would cut corners on the curriculum. It’s a natural habit, it’s not a crime. But it really drives home the point that monotony can really get to people. The same thing… day in and day out… for x-amount of time… But over the last few years, I’ve really come to realize that consistency in training is paramount. I say this because as I mentioned previously, I never appreciated it like I do now. As an Adobe Certified Instructor, I can tell you firsthand that with face-to-face trainings, it can be difficult to hold a captive audience, and I think that can also be said by hundreds of thousands of other trainers in their respective fields, as well. Utilizing Adobe Connect in conjunction with content authoring tools such as Adobe Presenter and Adobe Captivate gives you piece of mind in knowing that your trainings are being conveyed consistently across an entire network, to every enrollee, every time. As a strong advocate in education and a true belief that, “knowledge is power”, I can truly appreciate consistency in education.
3.) Reach – Getting your message out to the masses can be tedious sometimes. In the workplace, I know from past experience that being the proverbial, “fly on the wall” can be engaging for only so long to some people – me included, especially when you want to interact. Connect offers various interaction functions, not only in the Meeting Room itself but also on-demand. With Adobe Connect, it’s simplified and streamlined to reach out to several or hundreds of people, regardless of their geographical locations and get them all in the same place, and all at the same time. The reach that Connect provides on a global scale is second to none. In all honesty, Connect is best used in the ways that weren’t intended initially. I have an EDU client that allows its students and/or user base to reach out to their families that live in varying geographical locales. This, to me, is a great example of a use case, and it humbles me to know that I may have played a small role in allowing for a family to maintain contact in such a robust manner. Worldwide, Connect isn’t limited to where, and who it can reach. It just… does.
4.) Simplicity – I know, I know. There’s that old adage, “technology complicates simplicity”. In some cases, this can be very true and I don’t dispute that. But I’m also reminded of times when web conferencing tools were really beginning to emerge, and I remember saying to myself, “well, that seems simple enough. Pretty logical, too.” All that said, it never occurred to me until I began my role here how simplistic the concept of web conferencing is in general, but how complicated some tools can be at the same time. Realistically, it’d be ideal if the tools to execute a successful webinar, collaboration session, and etc. all ran how they’re supposed to at all times, but that’s not the case. I believe it’s known as Murphy’s Law. Adobe Connect is powerful, yet simplistic at the same time. Really, all that’s needed is an Internet connection and Flash. Simple enough, right? A lot of the clients that I work with appreciate the simplicity of Connect for a number of reasons, and while I’m not going to name them all, I can safely say that they appreciated the simplicity of Connect then, and even more so now since they’ve had a chance to dive into the product as a whole.
5.) Integration – Now, it’s time to get a little technical. Adobe Connect offers some of the deepest integration out of any web conferencing and eLearning platforms available. Thanks to the available API’s (Application Protocol Interface) that Connect utilizes, it can also be an integral part of the systems that are already utilized. Day in and day out, both instructors and students rely heavily on their institution’s centralized computer system. More now than ever, online classes have become much more popular (I see commercials for websites that claim to “match” you with the best online program) because of the convenience it offers, it’s easier to work your schedule around. In Higher Education institutions, LMS’s (Learning Management System) are very prominent, and Connect integrates with the majority of them that are publicly and/or commercially available. Due to the popularity and growing interest in taking classes online, LMS integration is an imperative. While Adobe Connect is also considered a lightweight LMS in its own right, integration with your native LMS offers a better learning experience overall for the students. SSO (Single Sign On)? Yep, it does that. Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP)? Indeed it does. AD (Active Directory)? Affirmative.
I could go on and on about what Adobe Connect does, but the key is to check it out for yourself to see how it can work for you.
Thanks for reading, and please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions.
jeff AT realeyesconnect DOT com