Are there distinct lines that divide VoIP, Web 2.0, Web conferencing, unified communications and myriad other applications and classes of services? Yes, but they are all in the eye of the beholder.
The beauty and the challenge of IP is that everything is comprised of the same basic building blocks and travels on the same network. This allows them to be mixed and matched in a modular fashion. This Lego-type approach is great for creating families of applications. But it is terrible for those among us who like clear and crisp borders between applications.
It also means that news must be looked at in four ways: within the business and technology context of that particular category and within the more amorphous families of applications to which they may be called into service. An advance in VoIP, for instance, will have impact both in the VoIP sector and on any IP application with a voice component. A lot of this healthy ambiguity comes together in Web conferencing, a potent area which is part of an even more potentially lucrative category, unified communications (UC).
This release says Cisco has released updates to WebEx, which it bought this spring, enabling users to record meeting content for playback later. The functionality -- called WebEx Network-Based Recording (NBR) -- records chat, presentations, audio and video. While a nice addition, this isn't earth-shattering. It does, however, show how Web conferencing is evolving at the higher end.
Web conferencing's availabilities and functionality also are expanding at the lower end, where products are free or very cheap. This very methodical post at InfoMean breaks down the various categories of Web conferencing. After a disclaimer suggesting that the separations between these groups are fuzzy and can change, the writer separates things into four categories: real-time conferencing; video conferencing; forums, message boards and similar tools; and finally, collaborative team and groupware environments. The Web is a central element of each of these categories.
The tie between UC and Web conferencing is drawn by Processor in a piece that looks at some of the keys in this difficult-to-define category. One important element, the writer says, is "presence." This concept -- knowing when somebody "is online and available for communications" also is a hallmark of UC. Indeed, the Processor story looks at the Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and the Office Live Communications Server as keys to Web conferencing. These tools, of course, also are important elements in the burgeoning world of UC.
It's important to watch Web conferencing simply because there is no hard and fast barrier between it and UC, a family of products that will become increasingly vital to companies' ability to compete.