Conferencing Standardization, Differentiation and the Impact on User Experience
Oct 24, 2016
In the first half of this year I’d been keeping a log of my online meeting experiences. As I use a variety of tools frequently, I try to keep notes on what worked, what didn’t, features used, and the overall pros and cons of the user experience. My Q1 2016 summary can be found here: The Good, Bad, and Ugly.
Observations of 44 different meetings were logged, including audio conferencing with client interface, video conferencing, web conferencing, multi-media team collaboration, and webinar applications.
The 44 meetings occurred using 26 different platforms or services: WebEx, Mitel MiCollab, Cisco Spark, LifeSize Cloud, Zoom, PGi iMeet, Polycom Cloud Axxis, Dolby Voice, Citrix GoToMeeting, PGi GlobalMeet, On24, Unify Circuit, Vertical Meetings, ALE OpenTouch, YorkTel Univago, StarLeaf Breeze, Join.me, RingCentral Meetings, BrightTALK, Avaya Scopia, BT MeetMe with Dolby Voice, BroadSoft UC-One, AVI- SPL UnifyMe, VidyoDesktop, Skype consumer, and Skype for Business.
19 of the 44 meetings, or 43%, had some technical or user issue(s) that impacted the ability to start on time, complete the conversation without interruption, or in general enable all participants to effectively share or contribute. Issues ranged from browser version support, USB peripheral detection, screen/content share glitches, inability to download plug-ins, audio clipping/jitter, video freezing and lip sync.
By order of frequency audio, content/screen sharing, chat, video, and recording were the most utilized modes of collaboration in the meetings.
Full Disclosure: My approach in this effort is far from scientific. The overall goal is to log the experiences and review them as a group to identify trends. Time constraints limited the number of meetings I could log to 44—it is not a comprehensive tally of my online meetings for Q2. Access to join the sessions varied across PC, browser, WebRTC, and mobile clients that were often paired with a selection of USB cameras and headsets—all of which also impacted the experience. It’s also difficult to determine whether a number of issues encountered were specifically technology or user-caused, or a combination of both. My suspicion is that the majority is user-oriented and pertains to participants’ inability to manage settings and/or to readily identify and access features.
Key Takeaways: The most essential features of web and video conferencing, and even audio conferencing, are quickly converging into a single platform approach that satisfies the collaboration requirements of most routine virtual meetings. Frost & Sullivan refers to this type of solution as converged conferencing. The single tool set empowers users to schedule or launch ad-hoc meetings without predetermining which features or type of platform they’ll need to use. Converged conferencing typically supports voice-only, content-first and video-first requirements equally well. When in a meeting, users simply invoke features on the fly as they need them.
Vendors and service providers are supporting an increasingly broad array of checklist features (multi-party voice and video, content/screen sharing, chat, recording, mobile devices, room system integration, etc.). They are often differentiating on both look and feel as well as extended features (i.e., “social” capabilities in user profiles, emojis, scalability, WebRTC, or browser clients, etc.). It is the differentiation on look and feel that can create usability issues for meeting participants. By this I mean that drop-down menus, sequences to launch and join meetings, settings accessibly, and other functionality as well as the icons employed, are rarely consistent from application to application. Because most knowledge workers are exposed to numerous competing conferencing tools on a regular basis (via internal meetings, meetings with partners, customers, prospects, and use of both paid and freemium as mandated by IT, etc.), I believe this lack of standardization negatively impacts the user experience, adoption, utilization, and company ROI.
In my opinion, converged conferencing developers should consider standardizing to a more common set of icons and layout with regard to how and where users access functionality, specifically what is listed in certain menus and where essential capabilities are found. I simply don’t see why mute/unmute mic/video isn’t always front and center, why settings (devices, bandwidth, etc.) aren’t available pre-meeting and in-meeting, why mute or unmute isn’t the default setting when joining a meeting on all platforms, and I don’t understand why “end meeting” is always clearly visible (and prone to accidental click) but the option to logoff a platform/service is almost always as secretly hidden as a Las Vegas gambling establishment exit.
More standardization across platforms would make usage more intuitive, thereby improving user confidence, reducing disruptive user-driven errors, and making meetings more engaging and efficient.
Sixteen + years of experience in enterprise communications markets. Particular expertise in: Competitive and market intelligence, Market trend analysis and forecasting, Solutions development, marketing, sales and service support strategies.