Talking to your colleagues is important. When you can’t always talk in person (our distributed team of 11 people in 9 countries is in this boat) you have to rely on technology. To make these conversations productive (and pleasant), it’s important to find a tool that makes it easy for everyone to connect. We have lots of experience trying out different online meeting platforms and we thought we’d share some of what we’ve learned in this blog post.
Our options for small, short, ad-hoc meetings
When it comes to ad-hoc, pick-up-your-headphones-and-talk type of meetings, we’ve tried out these options:
But it gets more complicated. We’re excited to start hosting larger (20+ participants) online discussions. These discussions will support our community-building and knowledge-exchange efforts for the Responsible Data Forum community, our Matchbox partners, our Sounding Board, and others. So we needed something with additional features for these kinds of gatherings.
We narrowed down the list pretty quickly:
- We have to be able to convene more than 20 people participate, so right away we can knock out some of the platforms on the first list (Appear.In, Google Hangouts).
- We also knocked Skype out of the running because it would be too cumbersome on us to find and keep track of all participants’ Skype accounts.
- The platform needs to be compatible with Linux OS because a few people on our team use it (including me) and we know others in our community do, too. Based on that requirement, we had to cut: Adobe Connect (cannot be a presenter on Linux), GoToMeeting/Webinar, and Zoom.
Our options for large(ish), interactive, recordable meetings
So here’s how some of the remaining options that we’re familiar with compare based on our requirements:
I also looked at WebHuddle and Subrosa:
Subrosa is an open source, end to end encrypted messaging app. It supports text, voice and video calls, and all communication is end to end encrypted. Subrosa can be run from any browser, without any downloads. Subrosa’s security has been independently audited. It is licensed under the GPL. Here’s more info on Subrosa’s security features. I tried to create an account to test it out, but got stuck on the registration.
WebHuddle (beta) is an open-source web conferencing and live presentation system. There’s information on its features here. Ideally you would download WebHuddle from GitHub and host it on your server, but it is concerning that the last update on their GitHub account is from 2013. So I tried to test it out on their server by creating an account (which was a messy process) but wasn’t able to start the meeting because of this scary error message.
…and the winners are…
It looks like we’ll most likely be using a combination of all three: Jitsi Meet, UberConference and possibly ReadyTalk.
We’ll use JitsiMeet for ad hoc, small group meetings.
This video hangout tool is browser-based (but currently limited to Chrome, Chromium and Opera – Firefox coming soon). In a review by OpenITP, they find that “Jitsi Meet compares favorably to Google Hangouts and similar popular tools in its simplicity and ease of use.” And their security features are well thought-through. OpenITP explains: “Meet’s encryption is from sender-to-bridge and bridge to sender. Neither DTLS/SRTP nor ZRTP can provide an encryption solution for multi-party calls, which Meet supports, so end-to-server encryption is a consequence of the protocol. As a result, if communication happens via a compromised server, the server is a point of vulnerability. It will be possible for users to run their own Meet servers, however, eliminating the need to trust third-party infrastructure.”
We’ll use UberConference for any conversation you would want to record, and for large meetings when video might provide more headache than value.
This is conferencing service that allows participants to connect via VOIP or phone. They use SSL, their back end is encrypted with DTLS (signaling) and SRTP (media), and boast of unique features: “unlike other conference services where you only get to hear who is on a call, UberConference actively shows you who’s on the call and who’s speaking” and gives you the ability to kick them out.
We’ll use ReadyTalk for any large meeting that require video and recording options.
ReadyTalk kind of has it all: video, phone, VOIP, recording, chat, etc. It seems compatible with lots of OSs and browsers. The data they store is encrypted, and they use SSL (more info on their security practices). But all this stuff costs money. We would need to purchase at least the Meeting Plan for up to 25 participants which is $44/month (nonprofits can get a $5 discount on that plan). You can ask for a free trial to test it out before you commit.
We hope this information is helpful in overcoming those frustrating conference calls (we’ve all been there).
So, what information are we missing? What awesome tools have we overlooked? What online meeting platforms have you found useful? We’re eager to learn of other good options, and to learn what you think our rationale!
Image: Day 143 (Credit: Deborah Cardinal)
Additional research related to this topic
- https://openitp.org/design-review/open-source-secure-voice-tools-lay-of-land.html – voice tools
- http://forums.techsoup.org/cs/community/f/26/t/23924.aspx 2008
- http://www.idealware.org/articles/few-good-online-conferencing-tools-1 2015
Editor’s note: Rates and pricing for services in this article are current as of August 2015.