In early December, Convoq released Version 2.0 of ASAP Pro, its Web conferencing and collaboration service.
There is a lot packed into this offering, and I will outline its features using a three-stage process model for managing online meetings:
- Invitation of People. Multiple ways are offered for inviting individuals into the meeting: invitations can be distributed by IM, email, or a link on a team Web page.
- Registration of People. Registered Participants join the meeting via a Web page, where they enter their user name and email address. If they are requesting a meeting with an ASAP user, they are asked to name the reason for the meeting.
- Holding the Meeting. Meetings can include a mixture of text chat, video, voice, presentation sharing (where the presentation is uploaded to the system), or screen sharing. Users with dual monitors are asked which monitor they want to share, and then which application they want to share. Very nice. Here's a screen shot from a session with Peter O'Kelly ... and yes, we were trying to get the voice over IP to work (it helps if you turn your speakers on).
Things Done Really Well
ASAP Pro 2.0 embodies some great ideas:
- Convoq ASAP requires that the meeting presenter has installed software on their Windows PC, but attendees only require the Macromedia Flash Player, thus negating the need for a separate software install as is the case with WebEx or Microsoft Live Meeting (PlaceWare). The overall offering is built on Macromedia’s Flash Communications Server, thus removing the need for Convoq to build and maintain a set of cross-platform client installs, which should make it more responsive to the underlying customer base.
- Meet Now, Meet ASAP, Meet at a Scheduled Time. There are three options for the time a meeting is held: immediately, as soon as everyone is available, or at a scheduled time. If “as soon as possible”, the system uses presence data to track the availability status of the invited participants, and automagically convenes the meeting where everyone is available.
- Links for Requesting a Meeting. Individual ASAP users can include a graphical button in their email or on their blog to allow anyone to request a meeting with them. Teams can also publish a team-based button, which when clicked will find the first member of the team that is available for interaction.
- IM Integration. An ASAP user can import the contact / buddy list data from AIM, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, Lotus Sametime and Microsoft Live Communications Server into their ASAP client. That resolves a key limitation up-front … how to integrate with what the user is already using. Support for the IETF’s XMPP protocol is the key thing that’s missing.
- Cross-Platform Support. Whilst the presenter must use a Windows PC with Flash 7, attendees only require a Flash installation, thus directly enabling support for Windows, Solaris, Mac OS 9 and X users. There is also a version of Flash available for the Pocket PC 2003 platform, so ASAP Pro might work on that too …
- Pricing. ASAP is highly affordable for team collaboration; an individual license is $250 per year for unlimited online meetings with up to 15 participants using the video, voice and presentation/application sharing capabilities of ASAP. Per minute pricing applies when the number of participants using these ‘rich-media capabilities’ is greater than 15. Pricing schedules for larger groups and conference room style use cases are available.
Ideas for a Future Release
As Convoq works towards a 2.5 or 3.0 release of ASAP Pro, I recommend the following additional capabilities:
- Standing Invitation Lists. Groups that meet regularly should have the option of saving a list of contacts (ASAP, IM and email) to invite to a meeting, rather than having to re-create it each time. And, ideally, in a team setting, those saved groups should be shared assets, rather than each ASAP user having to maintain a separate list.
- Persistent Meeting Rooms. Documents from meetings disappear “after a couple of days”. There should be an option for more persistent storage of those things, so as to give a record of a meeting including documentation and who attended. This could be an optional billable item, eg, the “ASAP 3.0” service did not have the ability to archive meetings, but “ASAP Pro 3.0” did, and cost twice as much, or something like that.
- Polling for Making Decisions. It would be helpful for team members facing a decision to have the ability to frame a question for polling others in the session. Responses would be automatically collated, and printed to the shared screen.
- Specific Skill Lifelines. The current implementation of the role-based link is too general. For example, if a group of people from Marketing wanted to include someone from the “Shipping” team with specific insights, there should be the option for specifying more about what the Marketing team is looking for, in terms of specific skills and experience. Such a request could be broadcast to all available members of the “Shipping” team, and whomever felt most competent could accept the request.
- XMPP Support. As mentioned above, XMPP is an IETF standard for instant messaging, and ASAP should support integration with that world.
Some final thoughts:
- Convoq includes the concept of a “lifeline”, whereby someone from another team can be included. To me, the term “lifeline” signifies a last attempt before life is extinquished, or a low hope way of preserving life, not quite the metaphor that should be used for encouraging collaboration between organizational teams.
- There’s a 14 day free trial available. I’ve just signed up, and will be experimenting with the service over the next two weeks.
- The pages on the Convoq web site that detail pricing should all state that pricing is quoted on an annual basis. I missed it on the home page, as didn't initially know if the quoted price was $250 per month, per year, or for perpetuity.
- Chuck Digate, the CEO, writes on his blog (Jan 11) that “a major announcement is due in a couple of weeks that will massively disrupt the web conferencing market”. That’s a big statement, so watch out for its realization.
Have you used or evaluated Convoq ASAP Pro? What was your experience? Please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment.