With the rise of remote learning, increasing availability of broadband, and high gas prices, virtual meetings are gaining popularity. If you can save a trip to the office, you save money. If you can reach millions more people now because you’re tied to a virtual space instead of a physical one, you increase your impact. These tools pretty much provide the means and you provide the purpose. You can hold a class, provide tech support, host a conference call and so much more with these utilities, it’s really up to you to see where they would be useful for you, not if.
LogMeIn – I’ve covered LogMeIn before, which offers a free limited edition to connect to machines that you setup with the software and your account. It’s fairly versatile and a good one-way screen-sharing system once you have the software setup. Direct link to the archived write-up on LogMeIn.
DimDim – DimDim actually surprises me that it is free. It’s a high quality product that allows you to share your desktop, a video feed, or a white board amongst your attendees. There can be up to 20 attendees and up to 3 microphones amongst them. The site is really easy to use and there is no downloads or installations required for viewers. There is a small Firefox plug-in install required for demonstrators. All in all, DimDim (despite it’s silly sounding name) is a professional product that could have tons of uses.
ShowMyPC – ShowMyPC is an example of somebody taking an existing technology and making it more mainstream: more accessible, easier to configure, and less intimidating. The program uses a single stand-alone executable with no installation. You simply run the executable and it sets up a VNC session and provides an access number to connect to another machine. This access number simply abstracts the hostname/IP address that would be used in a traditional VNC setup. You can share your screen for giving a presentation, demonstrations, or tech support. You can also optionally give control to those viewing your screen. This is aimed as an alternative to WebEx or GoToMyPC. The only caveat that I’ve experienced with ShowMyPC is that it will kill any current running VNC service in the background and requires a restart of the service or computer in order to get the original back up and running (for example, in a corporate network environment).
Ventrilo – Ventrilo is the modern day conference call gone easy. Out of a group of people wishing to talk in real-time to each other, each individual has to download the client (2.6 MB) and install it and one person has to download and run the server (552KB). Everybody in the group just enters the IP address of the person running the server and suddenly they’re connected with ease. Ventrilo allows for Press-To-Talk or voice activation, Text-To-Speech generation, and private peer chatting.
Open a Circle – Open a Circle is currently in Beta, but it’s making a few heads turn with just its Alpha release. Essentially, you create an account and create a project. You then invite individuals (your circle) to work with you on these projects and collaborate using all sorts of tools like video, microphones, screen sharing, file sharing, and scheduling.
Imagination Cubed – GE offers a little web service for collaboration. Basically, you can draw up a little sketch in a flash-enabled browser and then send it off to those who need to see it. They can then watch it be drawn as you drew it and continue on the sketch and send it back to you. It’s a pretty neat little tool that might help illustrate some ideas where words would fail. Here’s a demo I drew really quickly.
A few more online collaboration tools that I haven’t experienced in-depth but seem to offer a lot of comparable tools for free, basic use. Some utilize Skype and offer all the standard features for presentations, demos, or meetings. Here are a few more to check out and keep your eye on:
Update: LogMeIn, Open a Circle and others added.