Kew App Alert: Can UberConference Solve Teleconferencing?

A large part of my life is spent in meetings and a fair number of those are conference calls. Whether for work or for collaboration on volunteer projects, I've tried out different conferencing apps including WebEx, Skype and Calliflower.

Back when I was a multimedia consultant, we used a videoconferencing system to disseminate a product launch throughout a global company and simultaneously broadcast it over the web. It was an epic event, considering it was 1999.

Why Teleconferencing Sucks

But over the years I have learned that there are 2 things fundamentally wrong with conference calls:
  1. people still don't follow proper etiquette, and
  2. teleconferencing systems are complicated.
On the first point, it's still amazing to me that people don't know the fundamentals of conference calls (muting, not starting over and recapping every time someone joins, being patient and providing folks enough time to unmute when they are called upon). But let's face it, utensils have been around for centuries and people still don't know which fork to use when there are more than 2 on the table.

So that's a human thing and we won't deal with it here. (But I've added a great little video below from the UberConference folks which acts all of these out ;)

Instead, let's consider the second one: teleconferencing systems are complicated:
  • purely phone-based systems have a large number of integrated number-based functions that require the user to memorize the user manual and then play with the phone pad while in the call to turn functions on and off, or rely on a moderator (which is expensive) to do all the work on their behalf.
  • Systems that integrate phone and web are fantastic if users use them properly. The reason you can't mute buddy in his car with the window down is that he used the general access number, not one specifically provided to him.
  • No one has time to learn teleconferencing systems. They just want to dial in and start.

A Visual Interface and Social Integration

Which is why UberConference is really interesting.

It uses a very visual web interface to allow the conference organizer and participants to see who's on the call and who's speaking, record calls and the other functions we know are available on our telecon systems but we just can't figure out how to use them. It also includes some really simple ways to mute users and even better put "earmuffs" on them. (That term always makes me think of a scene in the movie Old School - see below). And it integrates with social profiles so you can troll research the speaker while they are talking.

I can already hear the privacy concerns. Apparently the system will identify users by their phone number instead of requiring them to have a user PIN. So, in my mind, the best way to prevent your boss from surfing your personal Twitter or Facebook accounts while you are on the call is to set up different profiles for different phones: your desk phone, your work cel, your personal cel and your home number, etc. Just don't forget about that important fact if you decide to work from home and have to call into a conference...

I definitely think UberConference looks promising and I definitely want to try out the app when it becomes available.