Technology firms are masters of inventing new words — it's all about branding and being the first to use a hot new term. Unfortunately, this often complicates the decision process: webinar versus webcast versus webconference? Although it may seem like an endless process, learning the industry lexicon will enable you to make better buying decisions and speed up the buying process. To help get you started, here are the e-conferencing basics.

E-conferencing, a catch-all term, refers to technologies that allow people to communicate over the Internet, including audioconferencing, videoconferencing, collaborative conferencing, and webconferencing.

Audioconferencing concerns voice-only meetings. Traditionally this was limited to meetings over a telephone network, but audio is now moving to the Web using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology.

Collaborative Conferencing, aka data or document conferencing, allows people at different locations to share documents or applications. Traditional data conferencing relies on each user having the document sharing software.

Videoconferencing adds the face-to-face to an e-meeting. Videoconferencing equipment as well as a high-bandwidth network connection are needed at both ends. Videoconferencing is great for small events or meetings.

Webconferencing uses the Internet to bring audio, video, and often collaborative conferencing solutions to users via PCs and regular phone lines.

Webinars are the most common type of e-conference. The moderator presents content over the Internet using a form of slide show presentation. Attendees log onto the Web conference and communicate with the moderator through their telephone or a Web-based chat. The moderator can interact with participants, view attendee lists, and manage the communication.

Webcasting incorporates streaming video and audio over the Internet. The video feed is encoded and compressed, and both the audio and video are streamed through the Internet. Webcasting is usually used for one-to-many communications.

Virtual Trade Shows simulate a trade show floor on the Internet. The attendee can view a show map, click on vendor booths to visit, view electronic brochure racks, “chat” with a sales rep, watch a product demo, and more. Virtual trade shows are often used to market and complement traditional shows.

Cyberconferences are the combination of a series of webconferences and a virtual trade show. The event will have an online lobby where people can register, join a Web session, or browse the virtual show floor.




Stephanie Franks-Downs (sfranks@conferzone.com) is president of Denver-based MarKomm Consulting and founder of www.conferzone.com, an e-conferencing resource site.