Going against my “you get what you pay for” instincts, I took a peek at a couple of free webinar solutions earlier this month and the one that most intrigued me, and ultimately broke my heart was MeetingBurner.
To understand what may lie at the heart of MeetingBurner’s problem one has to understand its evolution. MeetingBurner was invented by the Rydell brothers (John and Paul) as a natural outgrowth of their small business tool set found at their company Networx Online. Networx Online specializes in simplifying already invented solutions such as faxing (eFax becomes FaxBurner) and conference calling (ConferenceBurner) to make the lives of its small business clientele easier. It’s a noble ambition but sometimes simplifying loses the essence of the model you’re trying to simplify.
Such is the case with MeetingBurner. In an interview with Mashable, the CEO John Rydell calls MeetingBurner a competitor of WebEx and GoToWebinar. Then in the next breath he says the product makes it easier for the small business owner to have web “meetings”. Therein lies the problem. A web meeting is not a webinar. The demands of a webinar are greater. On MeetingBurner:
- You cannot annotate the slides you are sharing.
- You have no whiteboard capability.
- You have no polling.
I am sure the argument Mr. Rydell would make is that these functions unnecessarily complicate the product but experienced webinar producers expect these capabilities. On top of that I have a couple of technical quibbles. Screen sharing launches a control panel pop-up. If you dismiss this pop-up after screen sharing has started, there is no way to get the pop-up to reappear. In other words, you’ve just lost control of your screen sharing. I also found the screen sharing start and stop buttons on the control panel pop-up unresponsive at times. On that last quibble, I’ll give the tool the benefit of the doubt that perhaps my Java wasn’t working properly.
My other quibble is the Skype interface. By clicking on a link, you launch Skype but when you close the meeting your Skype connection remains up and you must independently hang up your Skype session. I would also have liked to see the product labeled “beta” on the front page. Its beta status is made clear as you dig into the web site.
So you now ask me, “hey you’re the one who says you get what you pay for. What do you expect for free? Considering the cost, it’s a darn good tool.” Well that may be but this is where the heartbreak comes in. If everything I’ve already covered was all MeetingBurner had to offer I could easily chalk it up to “it’s free” and move on. BUT MeetingBurner has two functions that I would consider killer apps.
The first is the ability to automatically post your meeting recordings to YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. With the current focus on easy reuse of intellectual capital, this function is a big winner.
The second is a “Meeting Temperature” gauge. The notion of measuring audience attention is not new. GoToWebinar does it. The trick with MeetingBurner is it uses what I call the focus group metaphor. Have you ever observed one of these focus groups watch a political candidate speak and as they watch, they have a dial that they turn to express their approval or disapproval of what the politician is saying? This is exactly what MeetingBurner has implemented. As the audience watches your webinar they have a slider that they can move left or right to express “cold” or “hot” (or “bored” or “fascinated”). The presenter can see this “heat” measurement during the webinar. But that is not the sexiest part.
Things get really interesting post-webinar. The presenter can go to an analytics page and watch his webinar play back with the temperature showing below the video so he can see where he was pleasing the audience and where he was disappointing them. This same page offers two “mini-videos” that play the hottest 20 seconds and the coldest 20 seconds of the webinar.
And so you see why MeetingBurner leaves me frustrated and heart-broken. We have here an overly simple webinar solution with two killer app functions that most folks would gladly pay for. Well, MeetingBurner is planning to roll out a for-fee version in the near future. Perhaps once they start getting paid, they will beef up the webinar functionality. With that done, combined with the video-publish and Temperature Gauge add-ons, the Rydell brothers may indeed give WebEx and GoToWebinar a run for their money.