A guest post from Sanjay Sinha, Senior Product Manager, Platform Solutions Management
From the early days of using video conferencing just for point-to-point or multiparty meetings, a key component of any collaboration session now is content sharing – be it static presentations or dynamic content such as videos. Let’s delve a little further and ask ourselves – how important is content sharing to any meeting and how can the experience be further enhanced?
Content sharing experience today
The experience we have with content collaboration tools has not yet evolved to mirror the experience we are used to when meeting inside a room. The majority of meetings are presentation oriented – where there is one person presenting and other participants listen or occasionally comment on that one piece of content. If another user wants to present side-by-side, the current presenter has to stop sharing their content and pass control to the new presenter, and the experience is repeated. This frequently means that the organiser spends more time managing the meeting and the sharing of content, rather than focusing on the discussion and actively collaborating.
The traditional way of sharing content is to encode it with a video codec and send it to all participants. Since the total amount of data that can be transmitted is preset for the duration of the call, the content experience is limited by the rate of data transfer on the network, after accounting for bi-directional video and audio. The overall content experience is therefore not optimised, for example text resolution is poor, banding in gradients, blocking and so on. To meet peak usage demands, organisations have to look at deploying expensive networking equipment.
There is also the other problem that audio, video and web collaboration have remained siloed, and requires the organiser to select different ways for people to join a meeting. The experience is not uniform for users who use different ways to join a meeting – whether it’s via a dedicated conference room, desktop, mobile or tablet device. The users joining room video endpoints do not see a roster or chat option, which are features available to users on a browser client.
The future of collaborative content sharing
One of the main forces driving the UC market is strong collaboration to enhance productivity of businesses and employees, and the focus is more on getting work done, rather than just meeting using their favourite conferencing method. This requires that we break away from traditional meeting methods. Popular modes of collaboration should be merged into one seamless experience, without the overhead of heavy pre-configuration. This will definitely be a game changer as a lot of time can be saved while delivering a secure and seamless collaboration experience.
A truly collaborative meeting requires that the current model of a single presenter sharing a single piece of content moves to multiple presenters simultaneously presenting one or more content streams. To make it more interactive, multiple users should even be able to annotate on shared content. When there are multiple presentations, screen layout should be intelligently determined based on the device on which the content is rendered. After all, we cannot expect a user in a conference room with multiple displays to have the same experience as a user on a mobile device.
Due to the growth in native browser technology, like WebRTC and HTML5, a browser can be used for collaboration without requiring any plugin: WebRTC enables a browser to be used for audio and video, while HTML5 technology can render multimedia content. Utilising techniques like framebuffer, users can experience high fidelity content and reduce bandwidth consumption.
Collaboration should not end when a meeting ends. The continuity of collaboration requires recording of all conversation parameters with analytics and indexing. Contextual collaboration streams with a commenting framework allow more users to be brought into the conversation, and at the same time is a great repository for new participants to gain awareness. The benefits to users come with focus on increased productivity and simplified experience. With the arrival of the next generation of employees into the workforce, there is an increasing need for mobility and flexibility to work from any place, any time. As such collaboration tools have to evolve and remove constraints which users currently experience. It helps users make faster, better, more informed decisions to reduce project timelines, while creating engaging meetings.
Rich collaboration techniques increase the value of personal interactions and boost productivity. Adding content to that experience increases the value of a video and voice technology deployment. Given the experience with current content sharing solutions, the further possibilities for a richer and more dynamic user experience are soon to be discovered as technology drives us forward.