Rewind: Exploring group video conferencing options

To start 2013, I thought I’d replay the five most popular blog posts from the 8 Blog and update them (if necessary).  Originally shared on May 24, 2011, this post is #5 on the 8 Blog’s all time most viewed list.   Since this was written almost two years ago, some of the fees and functionality have changed. 

Most people are familiar with Skype, which is the most popular video calling site online.  As I’ve written before, Skype is a one stop communication tool, allowing real time chat and voice & video calls to users around the world.  For the longest time, however, Skype didn’t support group calls.  You could call all of your friends in Finland as long as they all huddled around a single webcam.  While Skype worked on adding the group calling option, other sites got into the video conferencing act.  This week, I’m featuring several sites that offer video conferencing at different price points and with different features.  Each of the sites would be excellent tools for educators to foster real time conversations with colleagues and students who need to meet from a distance.  Educationally, the sites would be a great way to assemble speakers from around the world to present to a class or for an online instructor to provide tutoring to an online student.  While these sites offer educational benefits, we must also identify the economic benefits as well.  As travel costs continue to rise, video conferencing will grow in popularity and will become more standard practice in education.  Each of these sites will help get you started with video conferencing.

Skype:

While Skype only recently added group calls, I really like how they’ve built this functionality into their platform.  A Skype user needs to have a Premium account to start a group call, but then can call up to nine other people.  Skype offers a seven day free trial so users can test the feature out and a day pass so set up a handful of group calls for a specific day.   A Premium day pass is only $4.99 and a Premium subscription is only $9.99 a month.  If someone subscribes and pays for a full year, Skype only charges $4.99 a month.    These are hardly outrageous prices for what the site offers.  Skype apps are also available for iPhone and Droid devices.

ooVoo:

ooVoo has been around for a while but for some reason doesn’t have the name recognition that Skype has.  Like Skype, ooVoo offers free video calls to users from around the world.  Unlike Skype, however, ooVoo has supported free group conferencing for multiple callers for years.  Oovoo now supports up to 12 callers in a videoconference.  In addition to its free service,  ooVoo offers different subscription levels.  An ooVoo premium account costs $10 a month and supports 5 way video conferencing.  An ooVoo Premium account costs $2.99 a month which removes ads and provides screen sharing between users.

FaceFlow:

FaceFlow is still a relatively unknown video site.  It supports up to four callers and doesn’t require any downloads to work.  Users can video chat with one another or watch a YouTube video together.  My only reservation about the site is that it also supports a “random video chat system” that sounds eerily similar to Chatroulette, a site that understandably received a lot of negative press last year.  Used appropriately, however, FaceFlow would be a great way to assemble four people to video conference in an inexpensive manner.

iMeet:

iMeet is an enterprise quality video conferencing site that originally was pretty expensive ($69 a month).  Over the last two years, however, iMeet has become much more affordable.  A basic plan starts at just $19 a month and is intended for the occasional user.  An unlimited plan costs $59 a month.  The site offers a free 30 day trial, however, which might be helpful if an educator is trying to organize a group meeting with some colleagues.  The site supports up to 15 video feeds at a time and also allows users to phone into the conference room.  The unique feature of iMeet is that each video feed appears in its own “cube” which glows green when that person is speaking.  This would be a really helpful option when large groups are meeting online.

Google Hangouts:

Google Hangouts didn’t exist when the original post was shared in May 2011.  Today, however,  Google Hangouts offers one of the best solutions for people who want to video conference.  Google Hangouts supports up to 10 people in a video chat and offers integration with Google Documents.  This integration allows people to lead presentations or share documents within their video conference.  Users need to have a Google Plus account which isn’t the challenge it was when the social network was introduced in June 2011.

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