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Audio & Video conferencing is not just for big business

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ConferencingSmall business can afford the same conferencing services you find in the enterprise.

Large business owners can afford cool conferencing tools. The goal for them is to reduce travel cost and still facilitate collaboration. The typical small business owner wants the same capabilities, reduced cost and  better collaboration but think its outside of their reach. What many don’t realize is they can have both audio and video conferencing and inexpensively.

How?

There are a number of free tools on the market that support free conferencing capability, the two most business know about but may have overlooked are Microsoft Skype and Google Hangouts.

These two vendors are constantly in competition, but they’ve also provided solid solutions for the small business owner. Skype and Hangouts have grown from consumer products to business friendly tools.

Skype

skypeSkype is well-known as the default audio conferencing tool. It’s “the” tool for international travelers. Travelers who want to stay in contact with their relatives back home; the student who can find a Wi-Fi connection and make a Skype call to speak mom and Dad back home.

Skype also supports video conference calls, One-One video conferencing. Have you noticed the number of newscaster interviewing via Skype lately?

A Microsoft ID is used to track users across the Microsoft network [prior to Microsoft’s purchase of Skype you had a separate Skype ID. It is still usable, but Microsoft really wants you to merge the two.] Calls are primarily made between Microsoft users; however, Skype does support calls to Landlines for a fee.

Recently, Microsoft announced a name change for their corporate conferencing software, Lync. It will be called Skype for Business.

Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts

Google has consolidated a number of their audio and video communications applications under the Hangouts umbrella. For many consumers Hangouts is what they use for Instant Messaging. It has the unique capability of being able to synchronize across logged in devices, so a conversation that starts sitting at your desk on your PC can be continued on your phone as you rush to catch the train.

Google has extended that core IM functionality with audio calling just like Skype. They added video conferencing in the same interface creating a tool that rivals Skype. The features comprising Google Hangouts are:

  • Instant Messaging
  • Text Messaging
  • Chat
  • Audio calls
  • Video calls
  • Virtual Phone numbers

Google makes use of the Google Account to track a user.

Two features that differentiate Hangouts from Skype are Google Voice and video conference recording.

Google Voice provides the subscriber with a virtual telephone number they can use to make and receive text messages and phone calls. This feature associates a phone number with all of the above services and allows the phone to be answered from any device associated with the Google Account. A text sent to the Voice number will be received and responded to from all connected devices.

The virtual number comes with some call screening and control features. You can for instance route a call from family members to everyone of your connected devices or to any number you desire while routing others to a automated attendant before accepting.

Support for recording conference calls is actually a different product Hangouts On Air, HOA. HOA adds YouTube to the Hangout offering and allows you to record calls for later playback.

UPDATE:

Hangouts On Air is now YouTube Stream now

The Small Business Connection

Google decided to make Hangouts audio and video conferencing available for 1 – 10 users. A bonus for the small owner. Not to be out-done, Microsoft followed suit and now offers the same service.

Users of these conference services can add attendees, chat among themselves, share documents and host a presentation among other things.

The success of these products is well known. Microsoft is pushing the Skype name for both consumer and business use; Google is doing the same with Hangouts. The Enterprise versions of both products have been incorporated into the vendors respective product Office365 from Microsoft and GoogleApps for Work from Google. If you’re a small business owner and have been paying for conference service maybe it’s time you took a look at these two products. They offer much of the functionality you need while helping you to preserve some of those valuable dollars.

 

Picture by Kristin Wolff  Creative Commons

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