Topic: Running a virtual conference / a conference online  (Read 4836 times)

We would like to host our event as a virtual conference, web conference or web seminar.

Do you have any information for us what kind of technological options we have?
Do you also provide such services?

(A German version of this article is available.)

Sorry, we do not provide the required services, but we can give you some hints on how you can proceed.

Basically, you have to decide between live streaming and video/web conferencing tools.
Both concepts have certain strengths and weaknesses.

Primarily, the number of participants for each session will define which tool is most suitable.
The following list gives you an overview of some ballpark numbers for the different available types of online tools:
  • face-to-face communication for 2 people via video conferencing tools
  • for up to 20 participants: use a video/web conferencing tool with a virtual room where everyone can join in and talk
  • for up to 500 participants: use a video/web conferencing tool or webinar software with a virtual room and moderators, microphones of all participants can be muted (using video for all participants may not be suitable depending on the software and number of participants)
  • for over 500 participants: use live streaming; due to latency, questions should be asked via chat or e-mail

You can find additional information here:
Livestreaming vs Internal Conferencing Tools – Which Is Best For Your Company? (external link).

Once you have decided which format(s) you want to use, head on over here to find more information on how to include links to the virtual conference resources in the ConfTool agenda or a mobile app: How to connect ConfTool to external resources for a virtual conference

Video/Web Conferencing Tools

These systems provide two-way communication with audio, video, screen sharing and chat technologies across two or more locations. These online meetings are typically conducted via desktop PCs and laptops. The screen resolution can be rather low and the number of participants is usually limited, although some systems allow more than 1000 attendees. Such systems are usually advisable if you want to conduct a conference session or workshop with a smaller number of participants.

Examples for Popular International Tools:
  • Zoom
    Zoom is a conference service that combines video conferencing, online meetings, chat and mobile collaboration. Zoom supports scheduling or starting meetings via Outlook, Gmail or iCal.
    Zoom Pro extends the functions of the free version and is suitable for businesses.
    Price: Starting from €13.99 host/month for Pro version (other plans available)
  • G Suite Connect (by Google)
    The G Suite provides business email, video conferencing, cloud storage and file sharing.
    Depending on the size of the company, you can choose between Basic and Business membership.
    Price: Starting from €4.68 user/month (other plans available)
  • Google Meet
    Google Meet, a component of the G Suite, can also be used free of charge and independently of the G Suite. All you need is a Google Mail Account to use it.
  • Skype
    Skype supports video conferencing, Voice over IP, instant messaging, file transfer and screen sharing.
    Price: Skype is free of charge for sending messages and for audio/video calls with groups of up to 50 people.
  • Microsoft Teams (formerly Skype for Business Online)
    Microsoft Teams is a part of Office 365 and brings together chat, video conferencing, phone calls and collaborative document creation in a single application. Microsoft Teams is a service that is included in either the Office 365 Business Essentials or Business Premium bundles.
    Price: Starting from €4.20 user/month (billed annually, other plans available)
  • GoToMeeting
    GoToMeeting offers videoconferencing, teleconferencing, screen sharing and much more on a subscription basis.
    Price: Business €14.33 user/month (billed annually, other plans available)
  • Adobe Connect Meeting
    Adobe Connect Meetings supports Web conferences, online meetings, online presentations and more.
    Price: €46.00 user/month, a 30-day free trial version is available.
    During the COVID-19 Pandemic the trial period has been extended to 90 days, the system can be used for rooms with up to 25 participants: https://blogs.adobe.com/adobeconnect/2020/03/adobe-connect-extending-support-in-the-wake-of-covid-19.html
  • Cisco Webex Teams
    Cisco Webex Teams is an application for continuous team collaboration with video meetings, group messaging, file sharing and whiteboard features.
    Price: Starting from €12.85 host/month for Small Teams (billed annually, other plans available)
  • Samepage
    Samepage offers a chat tool that allows real-time collaborating and a task board that helps to organize projects. Organizers can plan meetings, prepare the agenda, make calls, connect via video conferences and take notes.
    Price: Starting from €7.50 user/month (other plans available)
  • Whereby
    Whereby is a video meeting tool which requires only a web browser but no additional software. Whereby features virtual team rooms for up to 50 people and a screen sharing function
    Price: A free version is available; commercial licenses start from $9.99/month (other plans available)

GDPR Compliant and Servers Located in the EU:
  • TeamViewer Meeting
    TeamViewer Meeting offers video and voice calls, text chats, messaging, screen sharing for personal computers and mobile devices. TeamViewer Meeting can be used free of charge for non-commercial/private purposes. In that case, the number of participants is limited to 5.
    Price: Starting from €8.99/month for 50 participants (other plans available)
  • alfaview
    alfaview is a high quality audio video conferencing for professional online meetings and live classes. The company alfaview guarantees that no data will be processed outside Europe.
    Price: alfaview® free plus is free for schools, cultural institutions, associations, and social welfare and charitable organizations (commercial plans available)
  • linkchat
    linkchat offers web conferencing services with audio, video and chat functionalities in separate, password-protected rooms. The tool fully complies with the regulations of the GDPR. It is hosted in the EU.
    Price: A free trial version is available; commercial licenses start from €9.95/month (other plans available)

If you are a German Research Institute, see also: https://www.conf.dfn.de/
DFN-Verein offers users in the scientific community the possibility to conduct video, audio and web conferences. The service is tailored to the needs of research and teaching and provides the central technical components required. To participate in the service, your institution must be connected to the scientific network via the DFNInternet service.
Questions about using DFNconf during the COVID-19 pandemic are answered on the following page (content in German language):
https://www.conf.dfn.de/en/aktuelles-news/news-view/archive/2020/03/11/article/dfnconf-und-covid-19-146/

Heise Online also lists several tools for cooperation, online meetings and web conferencing.
Some of them are currently free of charge (page is in German): View in Google Translate.

Live Streaming

Live streaming is used to broadcast HD quality video to thousands of people in near real time. Live streaming systems usually also offer recording options, so participants can view the taped presentations later on. Many systems also have chat features and allow viewers to discuss with each other and the presenter. Such systems are usually advisable if you want to reach bigger audiences, for instance for a keynote presentation.

Examples for Popular International Tools:
  • YouTube Live
    YouTube Live is a streaming service that allows you to reach larger audiences. You can interact with viewers via the chat function and save your live streams so that any user can watch them again later.  You need a Google account to be able to broadcast your live streams via YouTube Live.
    Price: YouTube Live is free of charge
  • Vimeo Livestream
    With Vimeo Livestream you can broadcast your events to a large audience simultaneously on different platforms, e.g. your own website or social media. You can define who will be able to access the videos. All streams will be auto-archived once finished, and there are neither viewer limits nor ads. 
    Price: Premium €70.00 €/month (billed annually)
  • Facebook Live
    You can use Facebook Live to broadcast live streams from either mobile devices or desktop computers. Viewers can like and comment on the video in real time, which allows you to interact with them, e.g. by directly replying in the video or in the chat. Once the broadcast is over, you can save and post it so that users will be able to replay it.
    Price: Facebook Live is free of charge
  • JWPlayer
    JW Player is a video player software for embedding videos on websites. You can both record videos and stream live events.
    The Starter plan includes a capacity of 150 GB for hosting and 500 GB for streaming services.
    Price: Starting from $10.00/month (billed annually, other plans available)
  • GoToWebinar
    GoToWebinar allows you to stream live or record your presentations. Features include desktop or application sharing and changing presenters.  You can engage your audience with slide-in questions and live results.
    Price: Starting from €89.00/month (billed annually, other plans available)
  • BlueJeans Video Communications
    BlueJeans supports video meetings or web conferences as well as group collaboration across laptops, desktops, room systems, and mobile devices. It is possible to connect via video clients from different providers – including Microsoft Teams, iOS and Android apps, or web browsers.
    Price: Standard plan $9.99 host/month (billed annually, other plans available)
  • BlueJeans Events
    BlueJeans Events merges live streaming, content sharing and video conferencing in one application. Moderators can control access, and the audience can participate via interactive tools such as Q&A, event chat, polling and hand raising. You can capture your event for future playback and sharing.
    Price: An one-time event with of to 1000 viewers is $499.00, but it is limited to 2 hours.

Virtual Plazas

There are specialized services available that can help you to host virtual and hybrid conferences. They act like virtual hotels where attendees check in to meet other participants via different communication tools and where they can enter virtual rooms to attend live sessions or watch taped presentations. All three systems below support the import of agenda and participant data from ConfTool Pro.
  • Whova
    Whova is an event management software that works both with the Whova app and on your desktop computer. Sessions can include streaming or video replay and you can let attendees engage with the moderators, e.g. via Q&A or polls. Networking among participants is facilitated by targeted matchmaking based e.g. on shared interests.
GDPR Compliant and Servers Located in the EU:
  • SCOOCS
    SCOOCS (formerly iChair) is a web-based solution that allows participants to access sessions via their desktop computers (and an app soon). As an organizer, you can create an agenda, designate moderators for sessions and link session rooms with video conferencing tools or pre-recorded material. Attendees can engage with each other via a forum, personal or video chats. There are also sections for sponsors and exhibitors if required. SCOOCS can transfer selected data directly from ConfTool via a REST API.
  • AVDATA
    AVDATA is a German service provider with a special focus on hybrid events. The core of their solution is a tailor-made software including GDPR compliant streaming servers. Live events are mirrored on this platform, e.g. lectures, seminars or workshops, and virtual participants can dial into the various live streams. AVDATA offers a whole range of technical solutions such as the connection of speakers via video or telephone conference and the distribution of additional information such as white papers and handouts via a content management system. For the live part of your conference, they will provide you with audiovisual rental equipment and service personnel. AVDATA can transfer selected data directly from ConfTool via a REST API. AVDATA automatically checks if the participant already has a ConfTool account. Only items booked by participants in ConfTool will be displayed in the AVDATA interface.
  • Swapcard
    Swapcard is an event engagement platform for virtual, hybrid and in-person exhibitions & conferences. Swapcard features an interactive event program, live streaming, audience response tools, matchmaking with video calls, virtual booths and a product marketplace. We can provide a module that creates Swapcard user accounts automatically for each person who registers as participant in ConfTool Pro.

Open Source

If you are looking for a tailor-made product, are tech-savvy and have some additional time to spare, an open source platform could be a viable option for you.
  • Mattermost
    Mattermost is an open-source online collaboration and messaging platform that can either be self-hosted or be booked as a cloud service. It features conversations in public or private chat channels with links to voice, video, and screen sharing services available. Messaging can be 1-on-1 or in groups and attendants can share files, images and links. Apps are available for iOS and Android. You can use integrations to other services, e.g. streaming and video providers (like BigBlueButton, see below). Mattermost offers a REST API (interface) and we can supply a module which will automatically create a Mattermost user account for each newly registered participant in ConfTool (a small fee applies for installation, customization and tests of this module).
  • BigBlueButton
    BigBlueButton is an open-source web conferencing system that uses WebRTC, a technology supported by all major modern browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Safari Mobile. If you want to self-host web conferences with BigBlueButton, you will need a GNU/Linux server. Alternatively, you can book BigBlueButton as a hosted service with third-party providers (see list below). BigBlueButton was designed for online learning but offers all regular web conferencing features: audio/video sharing, presentations with extended whiteboard capabilities (e.g., pointer, zooming and drawing), public and private chats, breakout rooms, screen sharing and integrated VoIP. Besides administrators, two user roles are available to define the options in the system: Viewers will have the basic functions whereas moderators can mute other participants and make any user the current presenter who in turn can upload slides and control the presentation.

    If you do not want to set up your own BigBlueButton server, you can select one of the many available providers like:
    -   bbb server
    -   HostBBB.com
    -   Blindside networks
    -   Riadvice