Cheap Web Conferencing

While reading some TechCrunch news I stubmled upon a new startup – DimDim, that provides a cheap replacement for WebEx and GoToMeeting. With prices of a good airplane ticket or two per month I see little sense in spending money on either. DimDim, however, is free for meetings with up to 20 attendees.

Don’t trust all the raving about not having to install any plugins. For sharing a desktop (my primary use of such services) you will have to install at least one. Also, the whole thing requires Flash 9 to be operational in whatever browser you’re using. If your place of work security rules block Flash – sorry, you out of luck.

The performance over cable (at my home) to cheap Verizon Business DSL (at office where I was trying to troubleshoot something really quick) was decent, the lag was noticeable but not overly annoying. We didn’t test video and audio, since phones are working pretty well so far.

Usability leaves much to be desired. Control elements aren’t always intuitive and are scattered all over the place. First time I started the meeting and tried to share a desktop I was prompted that a plugin is required, leading me to reload the browser and, obviously, killing the meeting in progress, since I was a host. Sending a meeting invite when starting a meeting takes up to 5 minutes and leaves you wondering whether it was sent at all. I usually resend the invite once the meeting starts.

Requiring to set meeting’s length up front also isn’t a good idea – I tend to select 2 hours for a 15 minute troubleshoot call. The reason for requiring to set up a meeting length is a bit beyond me – it could be optional, but not required.

On the positive side of things – the price of service. Most of my meetings require one or two participants, so I am yet to see how system will handle 20 (the limit for free account). Something tells me it won’t be so good.

DimDim also has an open source version of their software, but a brief research on their forums showed that no one so far have been able to successfully deploy it. A call for help left 4 weeks ago is still unanswered. I was unable to find any installation guides on DimDim’s web site and the list of technologies used to build the application (mySQL, Terracota, LightHTTPD, Tomcat, CherryPy, Flash and so on) suggests it won’t be easy task to deploy an open source edition. Therefore I see the OSS version as more of a marketing gimmick rather than actual useful product.

Overall impression from the service isn’t so bad. At the moment I will continue using DimDim’s free edition as there are no real alternatives for such service, as I want to avoid installing any special-purpose software such as VNC or pcAnywhere.