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The video-conferencing conundrum


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I’ve decided not to travel for the rest of 2013. There are a lot of inputs into this decision, including the fact that I’ve been travelling more than half of the last 20 years and I’m just tired of it. I also have realized that my endless travel introduces a lot of friction into my world that I believe is both unnecessary, is shortening my life and starting to have a material impact on my creativity.

It’s amazing to me that in 2013 – with all the choices we have – real video conferencing is still chaotic, messy and underused across many organizations. Getting it set up within a single organization generally works okay, but across organizations continues to be painful.

There are lots of different cases to consider. The simple one, like a one to one video conference, works fine with Skype, Hangouts or Facetime.. It’s trivial to initiate and I find video to be much more effective and powerful than a phone call. Eye contact matters.

As it gets more complicated, such as a multi-person video conference that is analogous to a typical audio conference call, there are more options. For example, you have two to 10 locations connecting. Most are a single person but one is the center of gravity. There might be a presentation. I’ve found Hangouts to be the best and easiest to deal with for this, although there are lots of other options, such as GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect, WebEx and Fuze.

But then you descend into the typical morass of a weak link somewhere. Someone connects with a low-speed connection or is calling in without headphones from a crowded coffee shop. Or a group is in a big room with a laptop at the end of the room with an 11-inch screen that no one really sees and eventually gets aimed at one particular person, rather than the whole room. Or the audio in the main room is weak, and it’s hard to hear the conversation unless the person is right in front of the speakerphone or computer mic.

I’ve recently done many presentations to large groups of 100 to 500 people using video conferencing. This works well as long as there is good audio and video on the receiving end. Ironically, these are often easier to do and work better than the smaller video conferences, since someone is actually paying attention to it.

My current goal is to train “my world” to use video conferencing effectively. A small investment in the right hardware and configuration makes all the difference. While I have real preferences on software, I can live with different choices given our hardware setups.

For example, I used Fuze for the first time last week for my Yesware board meeting – it was flawless (easy setup, sharp video, great screen share. solid everything.) I’m on an UP Global board meeting right now using GoToMeeting – it’s working fine, although I’m staring at one person (instead of the room) since the video is on a laptop on the end of the table. But last week, my GoToMeeting experience with Moz was a disaster (in direct contrast to the actual meeting content, which was great), until we separated the audio stream to a separate dial-in number.

At the high end, we use Oblong’s Mezzanine. It integrates directly with a Cisco system so you get the Mezzanine experience virtualizing the Cisco high end video conferencing. Plus we then have a very high def H323 system in our office.

Look for more on this from me over the rest of the summer as I work hard to master this stuff.

I’m interested in what you are using – toss it in the comments.

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Brad Feld

Brad has been an early stage investor and entrepreneur for more than 20 years. Prior to co-founding the Boulder-based Foundry Group, he co-founded Mobius Venture Capital and Intensity Ventures, a company that helped launch and operate software companies. Brad is a nationally recognized speaker on the topics of venture capital investing and entrepreneurship and writes widely read and well respected blogs at www.feld.com and www.askthevc.com. He holds bachelor's and master's of science degrees from from MIT. Contact him at brad@feld.com

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