Videoconferencing Options for Multinational Working Groups

March 28, 2012

Perhaps like many of you, I work with a number of multinational Boards and other working groups.  Historically they have either met in person, or via conference call.  Recently I did some research on the state of videoconferencing, hoping to find some platforms that could bridge the divide between meeting in person, and meeting by phone.  I am looking for virtual platforms that are more reliable than skype. The groups I work with usually work hard to find times they can all talk and do not have time to waste with multiple technical glitches. The options also need to be affordable for NGOs, and able to accommodate groups of 8-12 spanning the globe. The results thus far have unfortunately been disappointing.  I thought I would share what I have learned thus far so we could all learn together. My hope is that as more groups become concerned about the financial and carbon footprint costs of travel, the technology and alternative options will continue to improve.

Free options

  •  Big Marker  – can be a worthwhile free option if you have a flexible group.  It has a very simple to use interface. It works globally although not completely reliably.  Like skype it has audio and IM back-ups if webcams aren’t working.  As a ‘step up’ from skype it allows you to use a whiteboard to upload presentations or other documents.  Supposedly it can handle 10 participants although the quality seems to go down the more users. When I used it with a group of six we had to abandon the use of the webcams and revert to audio.  Others have told me that audio and video have been inconsistent among participants in their conferences, so it is not quite as reliable an option as I had hoped.
  • Googlehangouts –  Can handle up to 10 people.  Those who have told me they use it seem to like it.  I don’t have examples where it has been used with very multinational groups so would be interested in hearing experiences from those who have used it in this way.  For some of my groups, Google’s questionable (or at least evolving) privacy policies are a drawback.
  • Meetingburner – Supposedly can use with up to 15.  I have not yet used this one but I have been told that it can have an echo and that the video can be unreliable.

Paid options

I have identified these paid options but have not yet had any feedback vis a vis use by multinational groups.

  • AdobeConnect-  Theoretically can have up to 25 people if each person’s bandwith is a minimum of 256 kbps US $45/mo
  • WebEx – maximum 7   US $19/mo
  • Sight speed – only 9 way videoconference? 10 user pack US $150/month

And for Spanish speakers, here is a comparison of 10 in Spanish (shared by my colleague Pablo Rodriquez @txtpablo)

What experiences have you had?