As my company is still very “virtual” with teams made up of programmers, artists, project managers, and other folks scattered around the USA, I have been researching online services that will help us collaborate, “meet,” and organise our files/links, etc… I tried WebEx first, mostly due to all the commercials and a lovely packet of paper info I got at a trade show in 1999.
So I set up my “office,” which allows people to leave messages and their “business card,” and a few other cute features. Please don’t leave me anything as I’m not looking there! I can also schedule meetings or set myself up to attend meetings. WebEx has three versions of their service: free, pay-per-use, and corporate solutions (or as their signup page says, “Corportate Solutions”). Free meetings can have up to 4 people for I believe no more than 1 hour, and you seem to get most of their features like file sharing, app sharing, desktop sharing, and video stream.
But before you get too excited, let me explain these. The file sharing uses a special printer driver to essentially print the document you’re looking at TO the WebEx interface. This lets other people see this document but not change it. The app sharing lets other people watch you use one of your open apps live, like changing a Word document. They can’t change anything, but they can watch from the edge of their seats. The desktop sharing lets someone use your computer as if they were sitting at it, like a remote access program. They say this can be good for tech support, but I’m not sure I’d let anybody, even a friendly and qualified Microsoft techie :), into my whole computer. The video stream shows whoever is set as the conference leader at what looked like 1 or 2 frames per second (unless that was just a poor camera used by the WebEx salesman himself, and you’d think he’s got the best equipment he could use to make the sale). And remember: all of these features are only controlled by the conf leader – so only the conf leader can post docs to see, drag you to a webpage, and share an open app. You can CHANGE who is the conf leader, but it’s not real collaboration in that when you open the whiteboard, only the conf leader can draw stuff. He/she’d have to change who the leader is for anyone to chime in. This seems ineffecient to me, and at least in NetMeeting, you can share on a more equal level.
Another thing that seemed wacky to me was that you couldn’t undock the text chat from the interface. That meant no matter where you were – in someone else’s computer, looking at a webpage you were dragged to, if you’re typing text in the text chat, there is a chance that NOBODY is seeing it since it may be buried underneath the real activity. The WebEx salesman’s explanation/solution was to use their integrated conference calling (which costs extra on any level), as in people on the telephone at the same time they are using WebEx. This struck me as odd. I then asked myself: what is the difference, then, between using WebEx as they expect you to (sharing stuff with one person in control/contributing at a time) and everyone on a telephone conference call, AND everyone “chatting” over AOL instant messenger, everyone looking at a webpage or doc we’ve posted to a private website for testing (say), and all of us on a telephone conference call? Yes we’d be missing document sharing, but I’m not in a business where I need to watch someone change their HTML code before they reload a changed file to the server. The bottom line was that we felt like we could do all of this stuff better using the tools we already had OR by using NetMeeting, which at least allows multiple video streams, multiple users collaborating as in we cal ALL draw on the whiteboard at the same time, and also allows application sharing for those who like to watch people use their apps. Hey not to mention the audio streaming so you don’t have to have everyone on a telephone too. And I think NetMeeting is still free.
But wait, there’s more.
The pay-per-view version of WebEx costs 20 cents per user per minute, and I think has all the same features – so you’d really only need it if you wanted to include more than 4 people or use it for more than an hour. I also looked into the corporate version, which allows you your own branding for your own entry page, as in it’ll wave the As Was flag and have other links and code you want it to, even including frames if you want. The salesman told me that it was $3,000 US to set up and then $200/month per license. So if I think I need 6 users per month, I would pay $1,200 per month. There was a slightly stripped down version for $100/month/license – I think it was missing the streaming video and I think the desktop sharing (maybe the app sharing too). So I was looking at $3,000 setup and $600/mo. Why don’t I know what it includes? Because I was looking at the pricing as a shared Excel file off the salesman’s computer and he was verbally telling me things over the phone; he never emailed me or gave me any documents detailing what we had discussed, and I didn’t make extensive notes (thinking I was going to get documents!).
I would pay $1,200 per month. There was a slightly stripped down version for $100/month/license – I think it was missing the streaming video and I think the desktop sharing (maybe the app sharing too). So I was looking at $3,000 setup and $600/mo. Why don’t I know what it includes? Because I was looking at the pricing as a shared Excel file off the salesman’s computer and he was verbally telling me things over the phone; he never emailed me or gave me any documents detailing what we had discussed, and I didn’t make extensive notes (thinking I was going to get documents!).
This is where it gets wacky. After researching eRoom and liking that better (coming soon in another episode!), I told my WebEx sales guy that I didn’t think WebEx was right for my needs. His response, was,
“The foundation of our company is data collaboration, more specific application, presentation, and desktop sharing. If the only need for you is to show people or associates web sites. Then, maybe just talking to them on the phone and telling them where to point their browser might work for you. If you need to work on applications together real-time then our service may be a good solution. I apologize that I didn’t differentiate ourselves from other companies clearly. We definitely are the leaders in data collaboration but I can’t speak for just web touring. We try to be a enterprise solution that can help with data collaboration, web touring, video, voip. and desktop control. we try to integrate all these into one.”
That’s as may be, but I still didn’t think WebEx was even doing these things particularly well. I mean, it seems their idea of “working on applications together” means you’re all watching me use a program off my computer and you’re telling me in the conference call what to do. But I didn’t want to pick a fight. I just told him it seemed eRoom was better for us, and especially at the price, which was quoted to me as NO setup fee and $100/mo for endless users. I told him that price. The WebEx salesguy’s response?
“Also, as far as pricing, that was the initial discussion of pricing. If we need to discuss it further, I can see if I can work on the numbers to make us more competitive.”
Hey this is just my opinion. For my needs, we will never use WebEx, and we certainly won’t be paying for it. And I’m sure some of you out there are thinking, hey if they can sell it to you at this price, then more power to them. And maybe that’s what the new economy is all about. But as a consumer, it’s that feeling like when you bought a certain fancy outfit for $500 and after a number of sales and markdowns, the outfit, still in style even and at the same store, is now $100. And you say to yourself and those you complain to, “MAN OH MAN I paid five times that! If they can sell it for $100 and still make a profit, why don’t they just sell it for $100 in the first place!” 🙂
The you-don’t-have-to-put-it-on-your-own-server version of eRoom is supposed to launch in early July. If that happens and it looks like it’s worth talking about, I’ll be back in August to let you know what eRoom is, what it costs, and why you may or may not want to use it. It’s looking good, so I’m hoping on the “you want to use it” side.
Tips for Business Web Design: Build a Website that Draws Visitors and Improves Sales and Revenue
Creating a personal website or blog is a project that supports creativity and interests. However, creating a business web design needs to promote the business and grab readers. With just the wrong navigation, poor color choices or no call-to-action, a bad business website design can lead to poor sales and revenue. Just a few simple changes to a website can make it more attractive for visitors and potential customers.
Provide a Call-to-Action Area
A call-to-action suggests to the reader what to do next. For instance, if the business provides an article on widgets and how beneficial widgets are, then the call-to-action suggests that the user “clicks here” to purchase these widgets. This type of action guides the user to a new location on the website that is usually the area where the reader can input information to purchase the product.
Ease of Navigation
When a reader accesses the business website, the navigation design should direct the visitor to the required information. Users quickly browse a business website looking for the information. For instance, if the reader entered “best widgets” into Google, the business web design should direct the user to the widget’s location and information. This draws the reader into the business website design to further increase interest in the product.
Keep Ads and Extra Navigation Subtle
If the business website is trying to sell widgets, having large, blinking ads on the web page distracts readers from the main content. This can lead users to navigate to other areas of the website. Keep the areas that contain buttons and images that have the call-to-action more noticeable than any kind of Adsense blocks. If there are promotional events on the website, make sure it stands out over simple ad click revenue sections.
Avoid Flashy Backgrounds
Flashy backgrounds are good for blogs and special interest websites, but a business web design should be simple and attractive. Color coordination should be easy to read for the visitor, and the background color or image should not distract from the text. The text needs to draw the reader to the product, so distracting the visitor with gaudy images increases the bounce rate.
Make Users Click Less
The more the user needs to click a link to find more info or purchase a product, the higher the bounce rate. Readers want the information available quickly and without clicking too many links on the web page. Provide all the information on a page without making it too difficult to find the content.
Ensure the Website Host Provides Fast Servers
One major cause for a high bounce rate is a slow business website host. A new business can choose a free website host, but larger businesses require faster service and more options. Provide readers with enough bandwidth to quickly navigate through each web page on your business website.
These few, simple business web design tips can increase the traffic to the domain and improve sales and revenue. Provide users with a good experience and quality content and the website will profit. Navigation, content and attractive layouts are part of the recipe for a winning website.