Here are some solutions for group calling in the early stages.
Group video calling is a great way for face-to-face introductions of team members. Assign roles and launch your project. Skype has done a great job at making their service affordable and accessible. Check out the group call video for a nice introduction. Once you have an account, add the users you want to join your Skype group and, after a few clicks, you're meeting with a group of people all from the comfort of your couch.
Cost: Free trial membership for one week. Prices vary with international rates and subscriptions. Highest package is $4.99 a month for Skype Premium.
Setup Time: Download the program directly to your computer in 5-10 minutes.
Usability: Skype is user-friendly and most members of your team will have heard of the service, and may have even used it before. Be sure to have a strong internet connection.
While Google+ is hanging on, there are features that have serious potential to reach a positive tipping point, and Google+ Hangouts is one of them. Within the social networking world of Google+, users can connect with friends and, well...hang out online. The feature is broadcasted as a fun way to video chat and group chat with close friends. Google+ is not LinkedIn, nor is trying to be, but that doesn't mean the Google+ Hangout cannot be used as a professional collaboration tool.
Cost: The price is right. Google+ Hangouts are free with a Google+ account. Set up an account for free.
Setup Time: Users must be on Google+ and therefore, must take the time to create a profile and Google account. That being said, sign up usually takes 5-10 minutes or less.
The 12-way HD video chat is always free.
Cost: Basic ad-supported chat is free. Premium video chat removes the ads and gives you screen sharing and video storage. It costs $2.99 per month or $29.99/year.
Setup Time: Downloads easily onto any computer or device.
Usability: Once downloaded, you create a username and then connect with other users. The free version features a lot of ads, so if you're a compulsive online shopper, this may not be the avenue for maximum productivity in a group setting.
Good for: Certainly if you have a large group to collaborate with, the ability to video chat with 12 people and send mega-size files (25mb at a time in pro version) has value.
Pause: I have a team member that owns a webcam the size of a refrigerator and the quality of a game-boy. What do I do?
Play: Check out these affordable webcams.
This is the perfect platform for a quick, free, impromptu hello or quick run through of a presentation with a new member of a group. Use this tool if you are working with a team member with an ancient computer or an inability to download software. This program takes two minutes to sign up from the time it takes to type in the URL to the time you can connect with just about anyone. It has the dangers of becoming a chat-roulette with the potential to become a serious player in the free service video collaboration world.
Setup Time: About two minutes
Usability: Easy to find friends, also easy for others to find you. Perhaps too easy for those holding important meetings or impressing a professor, the informal backdrop of this program may not be your go-to website for professional meetings.
Good For: Quick chats, easy setup, or running through an idea.
By simply sending a URL to your meeting, you invite attendees to participate. Features of GoToMeeting include the ability to collaborate on a single document on a shared screen. In just a few clicks, you can pass the editing to another team member who could just as well be in another country. Real time editing means productivity and time saved.
Cost: Free trial for 30 days, then a monthly flat rate after 30 days of $49 a month (or $468/year).
The fine print: When signing up for the 30-day trial, you are required to provide credit card information. If you don't want to continue the service, you must request that your account be cancelled at the end of the free trial period, otherwise your payments will start automatically.
Usability: The program requires internet connection and that's about it. The demonstration video shows easy-to-use highlight tools and connecting with other members is as easy as sending an email with a link to join the meeting.
Good for: Collaboration on a document with all parties able to edit and see project in real time. Math equations, business plans, music compositions, or anything that would benefit from a hands-on, virtual think-tank would find use in this collaboration tool. Oh, and reviews are positive.
Great tool for webinars broadcasted to as many as 200 people at a time. Some background knowledge would be required to inform those 200 people of your event such as email merges, editing website content, or a small direct mail marketing budget for small businesses.
For a student team, this would be a great way to put together a final presentation or to present your ideas to a large audience from the comfort of your favorite classroom or even from the comfort of your residence hall study lounge.
Cost: Free to all users unless the presenter wants the ad-free platform. Cost for the ad-free platform is $17.99/month for up to 25 attendees or $69.99/month for up to 200 attendees.
Usability: Easy to design, edit, and present a quality webinar
Great for: Presenting your finished product, or, if you are a team leader, a cost effective way to brainstorm without worrying about interruptions. The live chat feature during webinars allows you to hear feedback and interact on a text level with other group members.
Everything you would want in video conferencing minus the video. This is a free collaboration tool that allows users to add files from their computers, capture screens, and support up to 10 people. As an open forum, users can access the service anytime (preferably their most productive times of day) to edit the idea board. Think of it as a virtual and collaborative smart board.
Cost: Free, supported by ads
To review the other articles in this series about online collaboration tools and resources, use the links provided below.