Feb 12 2008

Phone bridges as platforms that play well with other platforms

The communities I work with seem to be using telephone bridges more and more. Those phone bridges are acquiring more features (so I think of them more like a platform with several tools on them rather than simple tools). For example, phone bridge platforms can send email announcements scheduling a call and make a recording of a call and serve up the recording to people who didn’t make it to the call. Phone bridges are also integrating (or not) with other platforms. Here are some reflections on recent experiences and observations.

Freeconference.com has a sophisticated conference call scheduling set-up, together with an email list management tool. I just noticed that they’ve designed a sophisticated application to do your conference scheduling from Outlook. For example, if you can look at other people’s schedules in Outlook, that might be very important. With some groups, it could be very helpful to have a voice come on the line and say, “Your call ends in 5 minutes.” I’ve found that to be intrusive and irritating. Worse, the bridge hangs up on you when your time is up. I think it’s important to let people decide when the call is over.

It used to be that joining a call on Freeconference or Freeconferencecall.com via Skype-out was clumsy or impossible because it was hard to enter the passcode. I just tried doing it and it does work if you go slowly. One thing that Freeconferencecall has over Freeconference is that the bridge has an important extra tool: it can record your conference call.

Recently, I’ve been on several calls using Iotum’s bridge. It has a very nice interface with Facebook, so that you can invite people using Facebook and the host can control the call from Facebook. During the call participants can see who’s on it, who’s muted, and click on their picture to see their profile. Very nice.

iotum-call-a.jpg

You can also see who’s been invited to a call and who’s said they will attend. Iotum’s facebook application provides “a Wall” that can be used for note-taking during the call. It’s like a primitive chat room. Very nice.

iotum-call-b.jpg

It also has a page from which to download MP3 recordings to which you have access. (Not sure whether the nice list has the calls I was invited to or the calls that I attended. Controlling access and managing storage becomes important.) Very nice, provided it gives you adequate control.

iotum-call-recordings.jpg

When you have people calling into a phone bridge from regular phones, cell phones, Skype, from all over the world, noise reduction matters a lot. Because so many of the calls that I’m on involve just such a messy mix, I’m still finding that the noise reduction features of High Speed Conferencing make it worth paying money for the service. Having two people on a conference call that can’t hear each other makes all the other features and tools irrelevant. I never use the scheduling tools on any of the phone bridges I use. There are tools to do that on the other platforms that my communities use that are preferable, so for me the conference scheduling tools on all of these phone bridges are irrelevant. I just recently noticed that I could label the recordings that the phone bridge makes and serves up (via Skype or by phone or for downloading). Very nice.

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It would be nice if you could label callers (especially those calling from a phone number or using an obscure Skype name) so that you could take a guess as to who to mute when there’s noise. Although the high definition audio quality that High Speed Conferencing provides mostly means you don’t need the web interface to mute people I do need to occasionally. Their web interface is available only to the conference host, not to the participants.

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