Some interesting places to meet in real time

We’ve been working at finding places for synchronous meetings of various kinds for the POT Certificate Class. Sure, we can do the usual things, like meet up in Collaborate/Elluminate (we have installations at several of our jobs), but we kinda like free and we kinda like different so lately we’ve been looking at:

Web conferencing or video/audio conversation

Google Plus hangouts

The advantage is that many people already are in Google for something, and it’s pretty easy to find Plus now, and everyone can now access it since it’s out of alpha stage. Great video and audio quality, and the camera can automatically shift to whoever is speaking, putting them in the main frame.  But the maximum is 10 for talking – anyone after 10 can only watch. We liked it especially for quick meetings, kind of like Google Talk with video. One interesting thing is that if it’s public, anyone may drop by. The “with extras” option slows down the system, but lets you add viewing a YouTube together (this didn’t always work) or embedding a collaborative Google Doc, which would make presentations possible.

Big Marker

Kind of like Collaborate Lite, this one let us be on camera with microphones, but we had to have headsets upon entering the room or we got awful audio feedback. We only had four cameras on at once, but quality was good. All panels (participants, individual cameras, whiteboard) were in separate frames that could be resized. A presentation ppt could be loaded, and the presenter could zoom in or mark on it with simple drawing tools (line, box). Only one person could present at a time, and a newly uploaded presentation replaced the old one. Sessions cannot be archived with a free account.

Facebook HOOT

We began with just Facebook group chat, which is only text chat, but then decided to try this. Hoot is an FB application that you add, and the idea is to allow students to meet up together with video and audio. We tried it with five or six people, and as we were talking the creator of the app came in and spoke with us. Spooky but cool. Created by students for students.

Second Life

Here you need a “place” in SL to meet, so it’s like Collaborate only in that sense, and there are colleges and various organizations that will let you use their space. Audio is kind of new, and the application is pretty heavy (Cris Crissman pointed me to a different viewer, called Phoenix, that worked better than the new SL viewer). Learning curve is high, but the learning experience is rich because of the simulation of an actual meeting in a simulated space. Hard to explain unless you’ve done it.

Skype group video calling

For this, one person in the group must have a Pro account.

Alternate formats for “talking” while working together

Slideshare (Zipcast)

The idea here is that the presenter schedule a session where s/he can show him/herself on video and audio while touring through a slideshare slideshow, and you can see who is attending with their icons, and they can text chat during the session. Looks like you need a Pro account to do audio conferencing.

Inside a Google Doc

We meet inside a Google Doc just by putting some text in a Doc, then making it public and letting everyone know the URL. No audio, but real time edits and chat once you open the side window, plus you can annotate. If you were logged in to Google, sometimes it would still show you in the room as Anonymous, which was annoying. The other problem is that the synchronous chat isn’t saved. But it was a great way to create a document in real time.

I’ve heard Etherpad is good for this too, but it’s been bought by Google anyway; Crocodoc is also good for annotating together.

We recently also tried, which sets up a room where you can do polls, to do lists, and instant message chat — it seemed to work very well.

MindMeister Brainstorming

Lets you text chat while you create a mind map together.


Like Google docs, but better in a way because you can change your name  from anonymous instantly, and everyone’s contributions are instantly highlighted in a different color.

Shut up and collaborate

You don’t always need to be able to see and/or hear and/or text chat with each other — sometimes you just need to work at the same time. The collaborative documents can do this, and so can:


Video collaboration, but we haven’t tried it in real time, though it says it can. 500 MB free. Lets you add clips, transitions, do cuts, etc. A little slow in rendering. Another recent option is wevideo, which we’ll try also, although it only lets 5 people work on one project in its free version.

Prezi Meeting

We haven’t yet tried it, but you can meet in Prezi to collaborate on making a presentation. Icons represent each participant, and move around showing who’s editing what.

 Watch a video together

Not quite ready for prime time, or at least not any better than putting a link in a chat and telling people to go watch.

We tried YouTube itself, which now has a link in the Share options that sets up a Google hangout for watching — we have tried to watch videos together in Google Hangout and it doesn’t usually work. We often all get bounced to a generic YouTube page instead of whatever the participant is trying to load in.

We also tried (you have to use Facebook for this), and Synchtube, which didn’t really. We were all able to watch the same video, but speed varied widely. One of our members called it “Asynchtube”. made you pay.


Your question: where and when are you guys testing all this? more in the next post!

My question: What else should we check out?


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