Last Thursday we ran a briefing for some web development companies interested in working on a project building a collaboration, information-sharing platform for New Zealand community groups. I’m working as project manager for the five national organisations behind the initiative.
I was presented with something of a dilemma as I sat down to organise the briefing. It was easy enough to make a presentation to the people attending the briefing in Wellington, but I wasn’t sure about the best way to involve a company from down south.
My head went all fuzzy when I thought through what it would take to set up a web conference using Skype, a webcam, and all that. I’m sure it’s not that hard, but I didn’t have hours to spare. Somewhat by happy accident I looked into what Zoho had to offer.
Using Zoho productivity tools you can just about run a whole organisation without buying and installing software on your office computers. All the Zoho tools are accessed using a standard web browser on a broadband connected computer. On offer are office tools including a word processor (like Google Docs), spreadsheet and database. They’re also offering less common tools including a business package a akin to an instant intranet (Beta only), a CRM, a wiki, a project planner and more. Most of this is free, though they do charge for some stuff.I thought ZohoShow would be useful for our briefing.
It looks a lot like Powerpoint with a few differences in the way you edit and share, and thankfully, far less options. As soon as I started my first presentation, I saw a button with Remote on it. I found out I could simultaneously share a presentation with anyone who is sitting in front of an internet connected computer while showing the same thing to a face-to-face meeting.
A quick trial over the internet with a colleague sitting just two metres away proved it could work. There is a little chat box so written comments could be exchanged with remote users.
On the day of the presentation we linked by phone with the ZohoShow running in the background. Below is a screen shot of what the screen looked like at both ends. During the meeting somebody asked for a copy of the presentation, something I was easily able to do using a sharing function. The presentation is not publicly available as I shared it with a private list of people.
So how did it go?
Admittedly it wasn’t all plain sailing. A few glitches occurred when I was creating the presentation. I hadn’t allowed a lot of time to seek help from the support discussion forum, nor did I actually read the manual. By using the support available I might have gotten around the (minor) glitches.Frustratingly, I wasn’t able to add the final two slides. I gave up trying as the system refused to accept these slides. It wasn’t critical information, but I can imagine a situation when it might be. I also had problems getting consistent fonts, and 24 slides were listed but I could only see 20. What happened to those four missing slides?
The system seemed fast and responsive for the actual presentation and setting up a presentation to share was quick and easy. I liked the chat box, even if we didn’t use it this time.
Overall, we achieved what we wanted, and people participating seemed happy. I will probably use ZohoShow again, though with more time I would like to try a web conference using a webcam so each party can actually see each other.
If you’re thinking about using free online tools, you might like to read Miles Maier’s article “The Great Web Office Experiment”. Miles supports community groups using ICTs in London and he wanted to to find out just how easy or hard it is to apply online tools to my everyday tasks. He concludes the “ ‘nirvana’ is still some way off and issues around the sustainability and security of using online services for organisational use remain to be resolved.”
I harbour similar reservations, but that’s not going to stop me from trying some of the tools on offer.
Update (29 January 2008): Quite unexpectedly and without prompting Ahmed at Zoho has just dropped me a line:
First of all please accept our humble apologies for the issue you had in saving your presentation.
Believe you would have got this issue 3-4 days back. Actually a bug had crept in our previous update which resulted in the save feature showing inconsistent behavior. We have managed to locate the nasty bug and fixed the problem in our update which was out on 25th January. Now you will be able to save your subsequent presentations in Zoho Show without any issues.