Differences Between Web Conferencing and Video Conferencing
The denizens of hi-tech like to throw around buzz words. Thirty years ago hardly anything was called "high-tech" or even "hi-tec," but now it seems even kid's toys have embraced technology and trademarked buzz words. High-tech, once an obscure buzzword itself, is now so commonly in use that it has a nickname (hi-tec) that we all take for granted.
Web conferencing is no different. Once you swim in the world of computerized long-distance meetings, you start to forget that terms that are now completely obvious are actually double-dutch to many people. You find yourself looking at sites talking about web-conferencing, video-conferencing, and audio-conferencing and wondering, "What does it all mean?" "Doesn't web conferencing also involve the use of video?" "Doesn't web conferencing also involve the use of audio?"
This is my point. While both video-conferencing and web-conferencing use video, they are far from being the same thing. But in the world of Internet buzzwords, the two often get confused -- and you can start to wonder why the same thing is being given different names. Video conferencing does just what it says: video and, if you manage to wire things correctly, audio will also get transmitted, and people in different places can talk while pretending to be Hollywood directors.
Web conferencing however, goes beyond that. In web conferencing, you can take control of someone's screen and make them spend five minutes watching Timmy try to hold a cup in his bath while sending them text messages at the same time. Unlike video conferencing, the video they watch need not be live, it could be a recording of your holiday in Jamaica. The best part of web conferencing is that it does not have to be a video -- it could be an Excel chart, a PowerPoint presentation, or five minutes of you trying to find Jamaica on Google Earth. That is the great advantage of web conferencing.
Yes, it is similar to video-conferencing -- but the point is that it can do a whole lot of things that video conferencing cannot. It is -- quite literally -- on a higher plane. If you wish to worship at the altar of high technology, then video conferencing is simply not sufficiently hi-tech. What you need is web conferencing. And the beauty of the whole thing is that video-conferencing frequently involves far more complex and expensive machinery. This is one of the wonders of our modern, technological age -- it is not the size of your tool that counts but the simple, flexible purposes for which it can be used. And quite often, the small (or even Microsoft) is truly beautiful.
Web Conferencing and the Modern Family
We live in the age of the post-nuclear family. People marry, have kids, divorce, remarry, and have more kids. The family explodes outwards as they move from city to city and country to country, and before you know it, staging a family get-together becomes extremely expensive. Cost is not the only problem. Try coordinating convenient times with a hoard of former spouses, some of whom have yet to forgive the affair, the enormous cost of alimony, and who cannot even agree on the time of day, let alone whether Timmy should leave the country for a week in January. As luck would have it, when you finally arrange to meet at Susan's wedding or David's bar mitzvah, some volcano erupts and spreads its ashes over your family's plans in Europe.
Web conferencing provides a simple solution to the family get-together. Yes, it's no substitute for gathering under the mistletoe, but it's probably the next-best thing -- and it means the family can chat once in a while without requiring the services of a full-time social secretary and a private airline. These days, some families need web conferencing just to meet over dinner. Everyone sits in his room with his private laptop, TV, and phone. For families who prize reduced carbon emissions, it also saves a lot of fuel, and if you really cannot abide being in the same room as Aunt Edna -- well, you you do not need to. If it is really bad, you can just cut her camera off.
People are becoming more computer-savvy, and features that were once exclusive to the computer are spreading to the mobile phone. Web conferencing is now becoming possible over the phone, and many families are learning to use web conferencing as a facility for keeping the family together. Well -- at least in touch.
Like business web conferences, family web conferences still require some organization: someone will need to be the focal point of the meeting, and a little organization may be necessary to coordinate times (though far less than for physically transporting people). Using laptops and wireless technologies, web conferencing now means distant families can see tours of new houses and get views of new family members. In some countries, social services have begun using web conferencing as a way of helping children in care keep in touch with their families.
So, if you haven't yet staged a family web conference, maybe now is the time to give it a try. It probably won't be simple at first, but it is not very difficult -- and in no time, your family will be chatting round the computer.
Don't forget: "Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one." -- Jane Howard