Ex-Apple exec fights Adobe and Cisco with free web conferencing

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Ex-Apple exec fights Adobe and Cisco with free web conferencing

Chicago (IL) – A
young startup with Steve Chazin, the ex-Apple marketing whiz who
had been part of Steve Jobs’ inner circle for years, is
challenging the likes of Cisco and Adobe with a new online web-based
conferencing service dubbed Dimdim. How does it stack up against the big boy offerings?


Dimdim is best described as “conferencing
for the rest of us.” It not only frees average users from the hassles
of setting up online conferences with video and audio, but it also
delivers thoughtful all-in-one features that are free of charge – the same cannot be said of other hyped services. In addition, Dimdim offers a software platform which enables developers to build new services on
top of their base – with open-source and enterprise versions to address the needs
of big business.

SLIDESHOW:
Dimdim screenshots (12 images)
 

 

Dimdim, a young startup which emerged in April of 2008, has big boys
like Adobe and Cisco in its sights, challenging their ConnectNow and
WebEx web-based conferencing platforms which are being predominantly
used by businesses to host online meetings. But heavyweight players
like Adobe and Cisco have a problem: Web-based conferencing is becoming
increasingly popular among end-users and small- to mid-size teams as
well.

A new player to rival them all

While
Adobe’s free-of-charge ConnectNow caters to those segments as well, free
version of the service come with some limitations that narrows its use.
On the other hand, Cisco’s powerful WebEx platform doesn’t come cheap.
In addition, it lacks ease of use – a feature consumers highly value
these days. Although the networking giant recently posted a free iPhone application
that lets iPhone users participate in WebEx meetings, those users are not
allowed to host a meeting on their handset and instead have to do it
via a somewhat clunky web interface from their desktops.

Enter
Dimdim, an affordable and easy to use web-based video conferencing
solution “for the rest of us.” Dimdim efficiently exploits weaknesses
of other services to its advantage, playing the ease-of-use card.
It’s a clever move since average users still can’t get their heads
around web-based conferencing services. The company also has the
right man on board, someone who knows a thing or two about ease of use: Steve
Chazin, a part-time blogger at MarketingApple
and Dimdim’s marketing chief who worked for years with Steve Jobs as
Apple’s marketing honcho. That said, the positive influence of Apple’s DNA
clearly shows in Dimdim.

Conferencing for the rest of us

I
have been beta testing Dimdim service since it came out early last
year. Although it recently came out of beta, it has already garnered
over 1 million users in 185 countries.  I was awe-struck in early
beta days with the simplicity and inviting, crisp user interface.
Joining a meeting is as easy as following a link in an invitation
email. Unlike other services, you are not required to create an account
to participate in a meeting. No
special software is required, no plugins to
download either, and conferences with multi-person audio
and video run remarkable smoothly inside your browser, even on low-spec machines.

Read on the next page:  Hosting a meeting, Paid upgrades, Enterprise and Open-source versions, Conclusion…

 

Hosting a meeting

To host a meeting, a user must create an account via registration on Dimdim’s website. After that, a free Screencaster browser plugin in downloaded and installed.
Meetings can be set up in an instant, just by choosing a few key options. The host can show PDF and PowerPoint slides to other
participants, share the whiteboard, chat via IM, talk using a
microphone, broadcast a video of himself using a webcam or even share his
desktop. Attendees and hosts also get mood indicators which can be especially convenient for ad hoc, real time audience polling.

Another cool thing is co-browsing. It lets attendees see live content
of a web page that the host currently scrolls through, even if a site
features video like YouTube. When the host scrolls the page, the page scrolls on all of the attendees’ screens as well. If the host navigates to a YouTube video, for example, it will start playing inside the web page on each attendees screens automatically. Co-browsing greatly aids hosts in getting their message across.

There is also a virtual laser pointer
that lets the host turn attendees’ attention to a particular detail.
The host can even selectively turn on attendees’ webcams and microphones, promote anyone to presenters, zoom in on documents and record a meeting to embed it later as video on a website or a blog.

Dimdim
also sets up your account with an international dial-in number that
meeting participants can call from their cellphones or landlines to
participate in the audio portion of a meeting. A handy portal for hosts lets you start, schedule, search and edit
meetings, in addition to reviewing meeting recordings, updating
preferences, purchasing upgrades, and obtaining support. There is also web-based
tool that checks your upload and download bandwidth and connection
latency, helping you determine the quality at which your presentation
will be delivered to attendees. The coolest feature of them all? All of
the aforementioned goodies come out-of-the box and are free of charge.

Paid upgrades in the professional version

In
addition to the free version, Dimdim 4.5 is also available in
professional, enterprise
and open-source flavors. Paid upgrades get you an unlimited number of
meetings with varying room sizes. For example, an entry-level $99 per year
plan covers an unlimited number of 20-person meetings. A more pricey $495
per year plan buys you up to 100 participants at once in a meeting. Paid
upgrades also let you brand the room with your own logo and graphics, in
addition to dual video windows feature that lets you remotely turn on anyone’s webcam so you and other attendees can see and hear you both.

Dimdim for big businesses

Enterprise version of Dimdim runs on top of the company’s open-source SynchroLive
Communication Platform and leverages Adobe Flash Server to deliver
scalable and reliable web conferences for big businesses. It allows
simultaneous meetings and up to 1000 participants in a room and starts
at the $2000 price point. Although that may seem steep, a quick check shows that the
costs for 50 users to host web meetings for 15 attendees in enterprise
edition comes out to about one tenth the cost of Cisco’s WebEx solution.

Open-source version

The open-source edition of Dimdim is based on the GPL
license. It has most of the features of the enterprise version, but
is built around open source streaming and media components – such as Zimbra open source email, MoodleLMS, SugarCRM and Claroline. It also has an API that developers can use to extend built-in capabilities.

Conclusion

Compared to other web-based conferencing solutions like GoToMeeting,
Adobe’s ConnectNow and Cisco’s WebEx, Dimdim has the upper hand in
terms of simplicity, efficiency, ease of use and an inviting, clean user
interface. I’ve used other conferencing services in the past, including
Adobe’s ConnectNow and Cisco’s WebEx, on several occasions, but Dimdim
came across as the only service that (even in free version) doesn’t skimp on
important features or severely limit communication flow in
any other way.