GoToMeeting: A Great Way to Connect for Conference Calls

By Jason Dunn on Thursday, March 17, 2005

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I took GoToMeeting for a spin a couple of weeks ago, because I was curious about it as a solution for conference calls (and you've no doubt seen all of the banners for it on this and other sites). I'm usually in a couple of conference calls a week, and even with some of the biggest companies on the planet it's often difficult to get the right information for the call. Most companies send you an email with the info you need, but you have to figure out the time zones, enter it into your calendar, they're usually a pain to get set up, and they only involve voice - you need a separate solution to share applications or do collaborative white boarding.

GoToMeeting is different in a few ways that I thought were impressive. First, the installation of the client is completely silent - which is a bit scary in a way. When you run the install EXE it installs itself without any dialog boxes, which was surprising (this might be from it's Java heritage though). Once installed (and only the person who wants to organize the meetings needs to install it) it lives in your system tray, allowing you one-click access for setting up meetings.
It also installs hooks into Outlook and MSN Messenger, which I thought was very cool - in MSN Messenger windows there's a little tab that appears in the chat window, and with a single click you can create a meeting and invite the person into it. It's a very streamlined process that would be perfect for sharing on-screen ideas, even if you didn't call in. You could also combine this with using Skype for a low-cost conference call and collaborative session. I might use this with Fabrizio when we're talking about design changes. Smile

It's Java based, so there's no client software for the person to install and should work through most firewalls. I'm not normally a fan of Java applications because they're usually slow and the UI design is always a bit alien, but GoToMeeting looks and feels like a regular Windows application.

The Outlook hook is equally nice - it installs a small toolbar where, with a single click, you can start up a meeting and it opens up an email with the meeting details and links. You'd enter in a few email addresses and send it off, people click on the link, and as long as they have a Java VM installed, they'd be in your meeting within a few minutes. You can also schedule meetings in advance, selecting the date, time, meeting name, and even a meeting password. It then opens up an Outlook appointment and automatically populates the correct fields. Slick!

The interface of the application is excellent - it's a docked toolbar of sorts that sits on the right side of your screen. You can turn screen sharing off and on, give another person in the meeting control of your keyboard and mouse, or make another person the presenter - which means everyone in the meeting would be looking at their screen. There's a chat window which is useful for sideline comments or input from people who aren't in on the conference call, and you can send private messages to people in the call. Each meeting has a unique meeting ID, making it incredibly easy to join a meeting. That's what impressed me the most about this application - the ease-of-use and streamlined nature of setting up a meeting. They did a superb job of making it easy.

There are always ways to make things better however. One of the things I'd like to see them add though is a voice over IP (VOIP) solution for the meeting organizer in the instances where you want to present something and it's ok for the others in the meeting to use the chat feature to ask questions. In fact at one point in time I had grand visions of a huge Pocket PC Thoughts interactive chat, but when I realized GoToMeeting was aimed at a different scenario, I gave up pretty quick. If they were to add VOIP features I think this could become an even better solution.

You can try out GoToMeeting for a 15 day free trial - if you're involved with conference calls and online meetings on a regular basis, especially if you're in charge of hosting them, I think you'll find GoToMeeting a useful tool.

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