cc licensed flickr photo shared by Matt Stratton

I’m kind of glad they retired the Verizon guy or maybe because I don’t watch TV I don’t see him anymore. One Onion scented site suggests he got a brain tumor that had nothing to do with the phone while others report there are very strict rules as to how a Verizon Dude should be in public.

But I digress.

This year I’ve taken on hosting a number of free webinars for NMC, our monthly Adobe First Mondays and our sort of monthly Connect@NMC sessions. In many ways they are fun to do because they are live, and I improv a lot.

On the other hand, dealing with the vagaries of VOIP audio can break your heart. Because we have a cultural history of being able to pick up a phone, call someone, and be able to hear the full flow of conversation, we have that same expectation when the semi guaranteed flow of POTS (plain old telephone service) is shattered into the bits that get scattered into little packages and strewn across the net. Any hiccup in between, network congestion, local traffic spikes, phases of the moon can toss a large monkey wrench into the audio of a webinar.

So nearly every session we go through these waves whre the chat bursts into sudden bombs of things like:

Lost audio!
Where’s the sound?
Okay here?
Is this going to be recorded?
I can hear!
It’s dropping out?
Is this going to be recorded?
Sounds good in Akron!
Got sound!
Is this going to be recorded?
[Speaker]: Can you hear me? please type in the chat window if you can hear me…
Is this going to be recorded?

Back and forth it flows.

It’s just part of the game. I don’t forsee a way around this.

I’ve used Elluminate many times over the years for various live web events and recently, we’ve been using Adobe Connect for our NMC stuff. I am not here to proclaim one is better or not; but they pretty much do similar things. My experiences with Connect below mainly reflect what I have dealt with this year, and some of these I am just be plain wrong on.

There are a few things in Connect that just seem… awkwardly designed to me. A lot seems to be that it seems aimed more at the corporate type webinar, where only a few get to actually be part of the show beyond viewing and typing “I can;t hear audio” in the chat.

  • The default connection setting seems to be “LAN”. This has been a huge problem for speakers, as this setting tends to send audio at too high a data-rate, and ends up causing a lot of drop out for listeners. This has happened to our last 2 webinars. I now have a list item to remind all speakers (and listeners) to set their connection speed to “Cable/DSL”. I am not sure why this cannot be a preference for the user OR the session.
  • There is no volume control for audio or video content I share in a “pod”. Would it be too much to be able to fade media in and out, or turn the broadcast volume down?
  • The collaboration tools on the whiteboard are not at all designed for the large scale brainstorming done by wizards like Dave Cormier and George Siemens in live sessions where they let all participants put ideas on the board. I tried this last week in Connect and it was mayhem borderline disaster. First of all, the only way I could find to do this was to autopromote all participants to presenters (there is no tool to easily take that status away from them). People were clicking all kinds of parts of the interface, resizing windows, turning the hidden music pod on and off, flipping the whiteboard panes. Worse, at least twice people accidentally erased the entire white board because they made an error, and clicked the little eraser icon thinking it could delete their small bit, not realizing it erased the entire board. I ended up spending about 2 hours watching the recording to manually jot down the words placed on the whiteboard.I’m not so sure I would try the whiteboard again- it seems meant to be shared by a small number of participants
  • We went through a lot of gymnastics trying to deal with poor audio quality, even for a while trying a service that connects a session to a teleconference call bridge (which ran us a fair chunk of change per meeting to provide phone access to audio). It seems just counter culture to do a computer conference with phone audio.What we were told is that there is something in Connect that routes network traffic through the computer of the host that set up the seminar room. This has been a problem for my home office. In the small town where I live, my internet connection suffers from borderline to high network latency (aka packet loss, which is why the VOIP office phone we use is a desk weight as I lose about every fifth word in calls). So we were getting sessions with poor audio because it was routing things to the mountains of Arizona. It seemed to improve after getting our Austin staff to set up the seminar rooms on their better connection at the office, and I make sure one of them who has a host role is first one to log in.I have been told this by Adobe engineers but I can’t find any references to this in their online documentation. Maybe it is voodoo snake medicine.

I should add on the other hand that Connect has an elegant interface for the user, and there are a number of nice add-ons you can use. When the audio works, and I can focus on the session rather than trying to tell people to run the Audio Set up wizard, it is rather fun, though I am constantly worrying about poor audio ruining the experience.

So I expect that many people will tell me why the tool they use is better it worse– I am not looking to hear how much you love Product X but go ahead, I actually get tickled by any blog comment that is not written in Russian or which is not offering a product destined to enlarge a body part.

I take the times when audio flakes out as the challenge as host to try and keep the show going, but man, it wears me out to spend a lot of time going?

“Can you hear me now?”

“Good”

PS- Don’t you think the Verizon Dude image
verizon dude

Is standing in front of the image I used (a PhotoShopped version of my own image) for a 2005 presentation?

Jackalope

But then again, I am surely not the only one who has taken the Forrest Gump photo view of Monument Valley!

There I go, disgressing again.

Good.

The post "All My Webinars Feel Like a Verizon Commercial" was originally emerged from the primordial ooze and first walked on land at CogDogBlog (http://cogdogblog.com/2009/12/webinars/) on December 7, 2009.

4 Comments

  • Mathieu Plourde

    These web-conference platforms all have the same issue: audio should be prioritized over everything else, period. I don’t care if it takes 10 seconds for a slide to completely show up. I need to hear what’s happening.

    The other issue is the client side. You should ask your audience if they know how to get to the audio settings of their computer. Lots of users don’t know how to change the audio source from the speakers or the built-in mic to the headset, or the opposite. Sometimes, they don’t even know their sound is muted. So in addition to dealing with network bottleneck and internet wizardry, you have to deal with code 18 issues as well (18 inches in front of the screen). And since your events are one shot deals, your audience is always a n00b.

    I agree with you that Adobe Connect feels like a sales pitch environment. Elluminates does a much better job putting the interaction settings at the forefront, giving more fine-grained permissions for different modes of communication like the video, the whiteboard, etc.

    Don’t give up though, we need access to that knowledge, especially now that we’re all office bound because of budget cuts.

  • D'Arcy Norman darcynorman.net

    Elluminate can be just as bad – it decided that for the last class of an online course I was taking that I didn’t need a working audio source. I wound up typing for my presentation. We never figured out why the microphone on my end was borked – it worked fine in every other app I tested, but not Elluminate.

    And once you get past the Verizon “can you hear me now” session during the first 10 minutes of every online meeting/class, there’s another 10 minutes of “we have weather here. do you have weather there? weather is good/bad.” Sigh.

  • Alan Levine aka CogDog cogdogblog.com

    @Mathieu – I need to develop some opening slides with some of the important tech checks for users; I always like the way Jonathan Finkelstein does this for Learning Times. There are a few things we can do with the 18 inch issue

    @D’Arcy- Uh oh, I better find some better pre-session openers than asking about the weather!

  • Mathieu Plourde

    @Alan – It’s funny you should mention the opening slides. I created opening slides for Breeze live some years ago when I worked for Universite Laval. They are in French though, so you might have to find someone to translate ;-)

    http://www.fsa.ulaval.ca/apti/plourdem/Breeze/trucs_breeze.swf

    And I created another one to discuss audio issues in general before using Elluminate.

    http://www.fsa.ulaval.ca/apti/elluminate/microphones/

    We can Skype if you want more details (I’m “plourdem” on skype).

    @D’Arcy – Yeah, weather stinks. What about abortion, politics, or religion then? ;-) Let’s break those taboos! LOL

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