Aug 08 2006

Design of phone bridges and phone conferences

Published by at 2:49 pm under Communities of practice,Technology

I listened to Jerry Michalski‘s Yi-Tan call (http://www.yi-tan.com) yesterday. It’s a weekly call about technology and its social consequences. People on the call wouldn’t call it a community of practice, but if you notice, a lot of people on the call are “regulars” that know each other, share in-jokes, can often finish each other’s sentences, and definitely share a learning agenda. But there are drop-ins who don’t know the ropes, so it takes a lot of skill to run.

Jerry does a super job of producing a high-value, 35 minute phone call that focuses on one subject at a time, involves a presentation by one or more guests, and ends with an awesome summary of what was said to wrap it all up. He uses the FreeConference.com phone bridge (with the 800-number that’s free-to-the-caller, since most of the people are from the US). The group always uses an IRC back-channel. I’ve been observing how the back-channel fits with the phone conversation, which is always recorded and pod-cast afterwards, but will write about that some other time.

A lot of little details catch my attention each time. Jerry’s group uses the technology really well, but I often think that the phone bridge could be designed to make less coping necessary.

  • At the beginning of the call, Jerry always reminds people not to put the call on hold. But every few calls, someone forgets and puts us all on hold, so the whole group is subjected to some inane hold music. Since the person has put the call on hold isn’t listening, they don’t know they’re irritating the rest of us and we almost never find out who the culprit was. Sometimes the music is very loud so its really a problem, but this week it was pretty soft and the several speakers could just raise their voices and speak over the music. It would be nice if a phone bridge could just start with everyone on mute (allowing people to un-mute whenever they want) or to have a web page control panel (like the one that High Speed Conferencing has) that could mute everyone when necessary or mute everyone but a known individual or two. High Speed Conferencing has the buttons to do that, but they haven’t worked for me.
  • A nice feature of FreeConference.com that Jerry uses is the bridge-based recording. When you phone the bridge and enter a pass-code, the bridge tells you that the call is being recorded and you give your permission by pressing “1” on your phone keypad before the bridge lets you into the conference. That saves the call’s host from having to ask people’s permission (or, more accurately, remind them of the fact that it’s being recorded).
  • As the phone bridge is about to connect you to the group conversation, it says, “Please introduce yourself.” That’s a useful reminder to be polite, but it leads people to do so even after the call has been going on for a while. Jerry could remind people to not introduce themselves after a certain point in time when he sends out the call’s agenda. Or the phone bridge control panel could have a button that changes the message, “This call has already started, please do not introduce yourself unless called upon.” Wouldn’t that be nice?


One response so far

One Response to “Design of phone bridges and phone conferences”

  1. I was just excited for the new bridge project in our place that is scheduled to be started this month.