History of web conferencing: multi-function conferencing is coming of age
While video conferencing and web conferencing are sometimes confused, the
The reality is that web conferencing is an entirely different animal, with many more
available options and a much wider range of functions than video
conferences. Web conferences offer not only the opportunity to chat and
communicate via webcam so you can see each person in your conference
link, but to exchange documents, share applications, access shared desktops, use
PowerPoint, whiteboards and other presentation features and even surveys
It all started with PLATO …
Web conferencing is “the complete package”. Interestingly, the conceptual design
of web conferencing started long before there was a World Wide Web or the Internet
structure in place. In the 1960s, the University of Illinois developed a system
known as PLATO for its Computer Based Educational Research Laboratory (CERL). That
It was a small, self-contained system that supported a single terminal classroom
connected to a central computer. In 1972, PLATO moved to a new system of
mainframes that eventually supported more than a thousand users at a time.
In 1973, Talkomatic was developed by Doug Brown. This was essentially the
first “instant messenger” program ever designed, with multiple windows
displaying typed notes in real time to multiple users simultaneously. In 1974,
Kim Mast developed Personal Notes, a new feature for PLATO that allowed
mail for users.
In 1975, Control Data Corporation established its own PLATO system in Minneapolis,
Minnesota, the first commercial use of a multifunction conference system.
In ten years, PLATO was being used in more than one hundred sites around the
world, some with dedicated lines for full-time use.
However, by the late 1980s, microcomputers were becoming more reasonably
price and the heyday of mainframe-based systems was over. Eventually the
The original control data systems were shut down because PLATO was no longer
economic. Control Data now has some systems operating under the name
Descendants of PLATO
In the late 1970s, Ray Ozzie and Tim Halvorsen worked at CERL. Years later
took some of PLATO’s features and greatly expanded its
capabilities when designing one of the most powerful web conferencing tools available today
– Lotus Notes, released in 1989.
Lotus Notes was the first commercially released product that really took off
to offer user-created databases, document sharing and remote location
communication under one umbrella. Created a “relationship-based” environment
that took the corporate world by storm.
Other descendants of PLATO included DEC Notes, originally known as VAX,
written by Len Kawell. It is still used today on DEC’s EASYnet and Starlink,
a universal web conferencing community. NetNotes is a client-server system
designed to enhance the original DEC notes, with WebNotes as a complement to
Access to the World Wide Web.
Real WEB conference
The distinction between true web conferencing and systems conferencing is
difficult, however, to define. When the Web first became a contender as a
means of collaborative conferences with document exchange, etc., many companies
took conference packages originally designed for intranet systems and
redesigned. The results weren’t always perfect. It was not until
In the mid-1990s, true web conferencing software was available that was reliable.
PLATO and other conference systems based on the main framework were based on a
centralized structure, with all elements fed to a central computer. This
structure saw the development of various types of conferencing software that
included Backtalk, Caucus, COW, Motet, Web Crossing, Podium, TALKaway, and YAPP.
PlaceWare, possibly one of the most influential web conferencing systems
developed, had interesting origins in the 1990s at the Xerox Palo Alto Research
Center, where it started as a multi-user game called LambdaMOO. PlaceWare was one
of the first companies to offer full web conferencing after the
launch of PlaceWare Auditorium in 1997. In April 2003, Microsoft bought
PlaceWare, adding it to its newly formed Real-Time Collaborative Business Unit.
P2P changes the focus of web conferencing
Another popular form of software was Groupware, essentially defined by Lotus
Notes. The difference between the centralized structure of PLATO-based systems
and Lotus is on the extra features – Lotus provided a number of others
options like scheduling and sharing documents. Group work software is more complex
that centralized software and focus on workflow; that is, making sure
documents, graphics and templates are where they belong. Popular groupware
Products developed in the 1990s included InTandem, Livelink, Lotus Domino,
Oracle InterOffice, TEAMate, and WebShare.
As the price of home computers fell, peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing
became increasingly commonplace on the World Wide Web, though primarily in
a user-to-user basis. That changed when Napster members, then illegal,
informally organized group of college youth and other music lovers, began
sharing millions of music files between them. A revolution started in the
internet usage changing the way web conferencing was eventually conducted
perceived. P2P started to be seen as the way to host web conferences, rather than
through a single server. .
Groove took this peer-to-peer concept and applied it to web conferencing. Tea
Groove Technology, Originally Released in 2000, Updated to Real Performance
power with Groove 2.1 in 2002 and it was awesome. The advantages of peer to peer
were immediately obvious: once you loaded the software and set it up,
I never had to pay a subscription or user fee for an external server to store
files, you will never lose all files in one central location and it will be set
and good for life (or until the next update, at least).
Another company that recognized the need for quality web conferencing
software during these years was WiredRed Software, founded in 1998. In 2003,
launched e / pop, a real-time web conferencing suite with
features for all aspects of the industry – it was the first installable website
conferencing software without significant installation time.
NextPage also offers P2P web conferencing and document sharing capabilities.
developed from the Napster movement. In fact, they use the Napster example
file sharing and downloads to illustrate to companies the benefits of using a
peer-to-peer network through a centralized server.
What about UseNet?
In the 1980s, Usenet software was developed with specific protocols for
format and transmit messages. It also allowed messages to be passed from one
news server to another, replicating around the world instead of being stored in
any place. It has become the standard for news readers on the Internet,
with Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer, both with integrated newsreaders
for UseNet. .
For some, web conferencing can be accomplished simply by leveraging
UseNet. Download free software to set up a news server, create some
newsgroups in it, and have your users access your server with their web browsers
to create your conference site.
Most companies, of course, prefer to have a more professional package than
that, and ease of use and security are concerns best addressed
companies that have specifically developed web conferencing for companies or companies
solutions. Today, a good web conferencing package contains Voice over IP (VoIP),
shared browsing and app sharing at a minimum, with plugins and other
functions if required including polls, event management, PowerPoint
live presentation, playback, recording and annotation and marking.
Easynet, founded in 1994, is a broadband networking company based in Europe.
primarily providing European companies with web conferencing capabilities. This
infrastructure-based provider provides unbundled loop access to enterprises in
some countries as part of a conference “leased line” program.
VoIP is making noise
The last frontier in web conferencing is the practicality of using IP
voice communications on a regular basis with web conferencing. While Web
the conference is considered desirable for the exchange of documents, text messages and
whiteboards and many other functions, many people still think that VoIP technology
has poor quality overall, especially with so many people still using dial-up
Actually, there are several competitors in the market that have produced
excellent quality VoIP offers in your web conferencing packages, including
Voxwire, Orbitalk, RoomTalk and VoiceCafe.
The future of web conferencing
One of the latest obstacles to web conferencing has been the
incompatibility between Mac and PC. With the strong preference for Mac for
those of the heavy graphic industries, such as architecture, advertising and
publishing, it has always been difficult to share documents and configure
Web conferencing if clients are PC based. .
The WaveThree session was launched in 2003 to address this issue and it seems
have actually overcome this seemingly insurmountable problem, one of the
first truly powerful systems for Mac / PC collaboration over the Internet. Using
128 KBPS bandwidth or higher, Session provides video conferencing, desktop
share, share documents, whiteboards, and live annotations on photos and / or
documents. There will undoubtedly be more web conferencing platforms of this type on the market.
As web conferencing becomes more and more common, new developments
inevitably arise, including, perhaps, dedicated lines that are constantly open,
improved secure peer-to-peer access and more web conferencing options for Mac / PC.
With so many players on the field, there is likely to be a variety of
divergent developments in the coming years.
This article on “The History of Web Conferencing” reprinted with
Copyright © 2004-2005 Evaluseek Publishing.