Given the many different ways we're currently using technology to meet without actually traveling to see each other face-to-face, it's easy to get lost amidst the nomenclature. Following is a brief glossary of the terms that comprise the many different forms of virtual meetings. Thanks to MossWarner, a Trumbull, Conn.-based sales communications firm specializing in meetings and events, which provided background information about virtual event technologies.
Application sharing: A feature of many collaboration tools that allows two or more people to share the same application concurrently. Generally, the application is only running on the host computer; the other users needn't have it installed on their machines.
Avatar: A visual representation of a computer user. It may be a three-dimensional figure, as used in virtual worlds such as Second Life, or a two-dimensional image used in online forums.
Hybrid event: Any physical, in-person event that includes a virtual component, from live streaming keynotes to a full virtual environment. Also used to describe an approach to a series of events, such as a virtual trade show followed by a traveling road show of physical events.
Telepresence: A high-end form of videoconferencing that enhances the immersive experience through use of studio-quality audio and video and life-size images of the participants at other locations. Telepresence requires a significant investment for the specialized studio and equipment, and generally limits the number of participants at each location to no more than six or eight. Cisco, Polycom and Hewlett-Packard are among the major suppliers of telepresence systems.
Videoconferencing: Two-way, interactive audio and video communication between two or more parties. A very wide range of options are available, from free or low-cost solutions such as that offered by Skype, which make use of simple webcams and VoIP, to higher-quality solutions that require high-definition video cameras and displays, to telepresence systems, which require specialized studios and expensive equipment.
Virtual events/trade show environments: Web-based platforms that attempt to replicate the experience of a trade show or other in-person event by creating a visual representation of that event. Typically, virtual attendees can navigate among virtual booths in an exhibit hall and attend live or on-demand keynote and/or seminar presentations. Communication with booth representatives or asking questions of presenters is usually done by way of text-based chat. Events may contain streaming video as well as audio. As opposed to virtual worlds, these virtual events may be accessed via a browser and don't require the attendees to install specialized software on their computers. InXpo, ON24 and Unisfair are among the suppliers of such environments.
Virtual world: A three-dimensional, customizable software environment, such as Second Life, that may be accessed through the Internet. A virtual world generally requires use of downloaded software. Participants are represented by avatars, which move through the environment based on the participants' directions. They can gather in a virtual auditorium, convention center or other, less traditional, venues, and view and listen to presentations.
VoIP: Voice over Internet Protocol. Technology that allows for voice transmission over the Internet. This is the technology behind web presentations that do not require participants to call in for the audio portion, as well as that used by phone companies Vonage and Skype or any Internet Service Provider that offers broadband phone service.
Web conference: Web services that allow participants to log into an online meeting through their browsers. Rather than the mostly one-way communication provided during a webcast, a web conference allows for more interaction among attendees. Examples of web conferencing solutions include WebEx, Microsoft LiveMeeting, and Adobe Acrobat Connect.
Webcast: The broadcast of a presentation or event, either audio only or video and audio, over the web. The broadcast may be either live or on-demand. The webcast is an increasingly popular medium to convey information from either one source, or several presenters, to a larger audience. When streamed live, the webcast may allow for questions from the audience -- generally submitted via text and answered verbally by the presenters.
Webinar: A web-based seminar; has yet to acquire any technical definition, but is generally used to mean a webcast, possibly with the additional interactive elements offered by a web conference.