Aug 13 2006

Phone bridges and email

Published by at 11:53 am under Communities of practice,Technology

Often a tool’s utility for a community of practice is affected by how it works with other tools as much as how it works by itself. I used to think of phone bridges as free-standing tools, but I’ve come to think of them as a key community resources that needs to fit into a constellation of tools. Thinking about how tools fit with each other adds a layer of complexity but it also gets you closer to helping your community really connect.

Sometimes a tool has features that overlap the functionality of other tools, so that those features are less significant than they would otherwise be, depending on what other tools a community uses. For example, most distributed communities have some kind of email list for getting the word out. That email list performs many functions, including sending out announcements that the community is meeting on a phone bridge. Therefore phone bridge features to announce a conference call are not so useful, even though they may be designed really well. For example, http://www.freeconference.com/ has an elegant conference call email message that includes an easy way to plop an appointment right into your calendar. It’s cool but its overlap with other community tools makes it less relevant in many cases.

A report on a phone conference duration and participation, however, is an essential function that a phone bridge alone can provide. This is an example where my current favorite, http://www.highspeedconferencing.com/, doesn’t do so well. When you’ve finished a phone conference on High Speed Conferencing, you get a thank-you email that links you back to their website, allowing you to schedule the next conference call (and send out another email invitation for it). A much more useful approach is the report that you get from http://freeconferencecall.com/, which lists each connection, the call date, calling number, start time, end time, and total minutes . Although occasionally the calling number is not available, it usually including the country code of the person calling (like most such tools, it’s US-centric in that “no country code” means that the call came from within the US). It’s essentially the information that High Speed Conferencing provides in its real-time conference call control page. Often there’s so much going on when I’m organizing a community meeting, that I don’t have time to worry about who’s there or not, who dropped off the call early, who got there late, etc. It’s really helpful to have a record for later on — to track participation, whether you’re interested in who’s coming to the meetings or who or what brings people to them.

A phone bridge email report could have a lot of additional functionality built into it. Some ideas that come to mind:

  • Make the phone numbers clickable — going directly to Skype
  • Provide the data in a form that you can insert it into a database (you might want to translate phone numbers into email addresses or names)
  • Link directly to the conference call audio recording (which you’ll want to send to community members who did not attend the call, for example)

I imagine there will be a lot of growth in this area as phone conferencing becomes more and more Internet-based.

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