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About Conferencing and Collaboration

Teleconferencing and the Conference Call

The original virtual meeting, teleconferencing or audio conferencing emerged as a commercially available service in the early 1990s and predates the birth of the World Wide Web.  Initial service offerings were operator assisted only where each caller dialed a toll free or local number and was greeted by an operator who took information about the caller and then placed them into their scheduled conference call.  A conference call recording could be requested and made available for later playback to callers who were not able to attend the meeting or to review the meeting content.  All such calls were scheduled in advance with the Conference Service Provider (CSP).  The cost of such calls was much higher than today primarily due to the required operator assistance the cost of telephone circuits and toll free service, thus applications were limited to high level meetings and quarterly updates for public companies, as examples.

In the mid-1990s new conference call services emerged.  These new services were more automated in that they used a passcode entered by the caller via touch tones on their telephone keypad (DTMF).  Once the passcode was automatically validated the caller was entered into the correct conference call negating the need for an operator to answer every call and eventually eliminated the need to schedule the conference call in advance.  This automated service became known by names such as meet-me, passcode, reservationless and unattended teleconference calls.   Callers that were unable to enter a passcode for any reason would continue to be assisted by an operator.  At the same time telecommunications services such as digital circuits and toll free calling rates began to decrease in step with long distance calling rates, such that the combination of an automated service and lower costs per minute for toll free access began to dramatically reduced the per minute cost of teleconference calling, making it a much more accessible service to all levels of for profit and nonprofit organizations.

Although many additional features, enhancements and functionality have been added to the suite of services for conference calling, the passcode based unattended conference remains at the core of all teleconferencing services today.

Mercuri offers a complete suite of teleconferencing service for both unattended passcode based conference calls and fully operator assisted event calls.  Mercuri’s audio conferencing service features include:  On demand recording and webcasting (streaming), global local and toll free accesses, Call Me, SecureCall (tm) for extra call security, dial out, project codes, simultaneous translation services, online account administration, recording management and billing, online conference viewer for the host, a scheduling and management tool for Microsoft Outlook.

Web Conferencing

Web Conferencing is also known as Data Conferencing, Screen sharing, webinar, web share, Power Point or Slide share presentation (as well as other types of documents and photos) and has also been called, however somewhat incorrectly, a video conference.  A video conference may contain elements of web conferencing but is generally considered to be a separate service comprising of high quality video and audio.  A web conference is sometimes referred to as a webcast, which is similar in terms of its uses and applications but actually employs streaming technology rather than real time collaboration and has more limited uses since it typically broadcasts a presentation on a delay and is used as a one way medium more closely related to a television broadcast.  The term webinar is more general and vague and could imply either type of technology.

Web conferencing is a form of real-time collaboration in which multiple computer users, all connected to the Internet, simultaneously see the same screen either in a web browser or through a native app.   Web conferencing systems typically include features such as instant messages or chat, VoIP (Voice over Internet) and video. 

Typically participants join the web or data portion of the call via an invitation email, through a web portal or through direct instruction from the host or moderator.  The email will contain a link to join the meeting, often with prepopulated meeting and participant information for convenience.  The participant will join the meeting in a Web Browser or alternatively through an application download and installation, depending on the device and operating system used by the participant.  Modern web conferencing services allow participants to join easily and allow presenters to lead PowerPoint presentations, slide show shares and other document shares like spreadsheets and office documents as well as pictures without extensive system compliance checks or software installations.  Once joined on the web, participants can join the audio portion of the meeting using the built in web audio, by calling a local, toll free or international toll free number to a teleconferencing bridge or by dialing out to their phone from the web conferencing interface using a convenient “Call Me” feature, particularly useful for international connections.

An online meeting scheduled by the host or moderator is led by a presenter, which may or may not be the host, to a passive audience or is an interactive collaboration session which is often recorded for archive purposes.  The host or moderator is able to upload the meeting with the needed slides and documents in advance of meeting start.  Once the meeting has begun, the presenter leads the meeting from their desktop, mobile or tablet computer connected to the internet. The synchronized audio and video archive is preserved as a video in a common format such as MP4 and made available on demand through a portal for either private or public consumption under control of the host.  The archive may also include a chat log, copies of the presentation documents, audio recordings and a meeting summary. There may be several presenters, hosts or moderators in any given web conference meeting as well as one or many more guests in attendance.  Any participant can be given control over a presentation session and directly interact with the share session, and any participant can be promoted to be a moderator, and this privilege can also be revoked. Participants in large meetings are often put on hold with music until the presenters are ready to begin at which time all lines are opened. Larger meetings may use lecture mode and have all guests automatically muted while the presentation is delivered with the lines opened periodically for question and answer or other discussion.  Shortly after the meeting is over a meeting summary is typically emailed to the host as well, as well as an archive email if the meeting was recorded, with instructions on accessing the archive.

Common uses of Web conferencing are for business meetings and seminars, sales presentations, conduct demonstrations, provide online education and offer direct customer support.  Mercuri’s #IllustratePro is a comprehensive web conferencing service offering all these features and more.