Photo of green seats in a conference hallToday has ended up being a day for looking at web conferencing software! This morning I went with Matt to London Knowledge Lab to look at Elluminate. We already have a licence for Wimba Live Classroom and unfortunately so far it hasn’t proved to be a reliable enough platform to recommend for use by LSE staff. Hence we are currently investigating various options in anticipation of interest from various LSE collaborative projects with other international institutions. This isn’t however an invitation for lots of phone calls from salespeople! We were fairly impressed with the functionality provided by Elluminate as well as hearing good things about its reliability. One interesting feature is that it buffers audio so that should there be any net congestion it will play catch-up with the audio by playing it at a faster than normal rate. I was slightly disappointed to find that it uses Java technology, including a rather (un)impressive 20 MB download before you can even get started. I guess this isn’t an issue so much when most people now have broadband access but it does provide a significant delay before you can get going. The big java applet does however mean that the interface is fully featured and not dependent on your web browser. It seems to do everything most people would need from a web conferencing system and most importantly it seems to make it fairly easy and it apparently just works. The only thing lacking in the current version seems to be a sensible way of managing video from more than one participant. Only one video feed is viewable at any time and the video doesn’t follow the audio automatically as it does with Live Classroom. There is also no way for the session moderator to switch the video feed from one participant to the other. We are hopefully going to try this out for ourselves sometime over the summer.

Coincidently our centre director forwarded me an invitation to a demonstration of dim dim being run by Jim Judges at the JISC Regional Support Centre for the West Midlands, so definitely not a sales pitch – just a straight demo/experimental web meeting. I’d already come across dim dim a couple of weeks ago and have been playing around with it so kind of already knew my way around; but I hadn’t tried using it in a live web meeting situation – which of course is the only way to test these things. I’ve been very impressed with the look and feel of the software and it uses a Flash streaming server for the audio and video rather than Java, which I’m happier with, but I guess not everyone would be. My experience at the meeting was pretty good, I could see and hear the main presenter perfectly and apparently everyone could see and hear me pretty well too. There were problems however with some of the participants having problems with their microphones – nobody could hear them or they were very quiet. It’s hard to know whether this was a fault with dim dim or not. However, there was one poor soul who didn’t seem to be able to see or hear anyone very easily and could only really contribute through text chat. There also seemed to be a few user interface problems – there were the volume slider bars for each speaking participant but for me they seemed to have no effect on the speakers’ sound level. I’m using Firefox so that shouldn’t really be a problem.

Interestingly, both of these systems integrate with Moodle – they appear as new activities and integrate user accounts, but I’ve not seen either of these integrations in action.Unfortunately it appears that the dim dim integration is limited to the open source “don’t use this in a production environment” version of the product, which is limited to 20 concurrent users. There isn’t much documentation on the dim dim website so it’s kind of hard to know whether this is true or not, maybe someone will read this and correct me! I shall update here if I hear otherwise. Anyway, I think I’ve gone on long enough – if you`re at the LSE and you`re interested in using this kind of technology please get in touch and we`ll see what we can do.

‘conference hall’ photo courtesy of shinemy from (licensed under Creative Commons)