With large portions of the world in lock down , video conferencing and online events are growing in popularity. I have been exploring some of the tools (with an admitted bias towards Google technologies since I work there) trying to work out the best way to kick off an Ecommerce Website Office Hours series (the intent is to share information about Google and Web technologies relevant to ecommerce).
This blog post shares some of my personal experiences. Please note this is not an exhaustive survey of options available – it is only the options I looked at.
One unsurprising finding is it is important to understand your goals before you start. There are different options with different strengths and weaknesses. In particular, it is important to understand how you want to interact with your audience.
Google Meet is a conferencing technology, allowing multiple people to join the call. I used this for the first few sessions we held. It worked pretty well, but there were a couple of disadvantages.
- I got indications there were people who would like to listen in without revealing that they were watching. In Google Meet the list of participants is not easily hidden.
- Every public participant has to be accepted one at a time (with their name shown to everyone else in the meeting). For small groups this is not an issue, but as the audience grows a Google Meet meeting may no longer be suitable.
- There is a live stream option in Google Meet, but upon deeper inspection it appears this is designed for streaming within a company, not publicly.
- You can record the meeting then upload the file separately to YouTube to watch after the call. While this should not be a big problem, the first time it took 6 attempts before the upload managed to complete processing successfully. I suspect YouTube load is a bit higher with current world events. (The upload worked a few days later.)
- It was hard to do a full screen intro title slide or intro music. I ended up presenting a single slide from a slide deck. It worked, but it is not as professional as other options. You cannot share audio from the presentation though, so intro music did not work.
YouTube Live Streaming
The next approach which I am exploring for future sessions is YouTube live streaming. The best way to do live streaming is to have an encoder application on your computer. It brings together multiple video streams, overlays etc building up a final consolidated video stream which it then sends off to YouTube for live streaming and storing for later reference.
Example applications for doing this include OBS Studio (free, open source), Ecamm Live, and vMix. There are lots of online reviews listing different products that can be used. OBS Studio is very powerful, but does not have the same professional slickness and ease of use compared to the other products.
To bring in a guest or co-host, you use Skype or similar to make a video call, then merge that video stream into your session. (Skype has special support for this, giving it some advantage over other video calling software for this purpose.)
Benefits of YouTube over Google Meets includes:
- You can subscribe to the YouTube channel rather than maintaining a separate calendar.
- It is easy to watch anonymously by default.
- It is designed for larger audiences.
- Introductions can be higher quality.
- More suitable for presentations than deeply interactive sessions. (My sessions may start being more presentations than engagement until the regular attendance base grows.)
- You have more control over the overall presentation – it is much easier to do intro music and credits, picture in picture displays, etc.
- Questions during the session can only be asked in chat. This makes it a bit less personal.
- It is harder to get multiple people on a call (e.g. if interviewing someone). YouTube is fed from a single stream, so you need to bring any other streams to a single computer from which a stream is sent to YouTube. I may look to upgrade my home internet connection to increase the upload bandwidth.
- The merging of streams adds more complexity to running an online event – there is another tool you need to learn. (More of that in my next post.)
If the above two approaches do not work out, my next choice at present is to use Zoom with its ability to live stream the meeting to YouTube… assuming Zoom solves the current issue with leakage of some privacy data. Zoom appears to have a good mix of features for collaborative sharing with support for live streaming at the same time.
I started with Google Meet, but am considering moving to YouTube streaming. While streaming offers more options for a better overall experience, the real reason is there were indications of a preference to listen, making your presence known as an exception rather than the rule. Google Meet was the opposite – your presence was the rule (everyone else knew when you joined the call). Yes, you could watch the recorded video later, but this meant you could not ask a question if a topic interested you. There is also a concern that people won’t listen to the uploaded video later – something “more important” will often come up.
For this reason I am considering moving to YouTube live streaming so the default is people can watch anonymously but jump in if a topic interests them.
I will add as a final comment however that I have only run a couple of sessions so far so only have a small base of feedback to draw upon. I have also not tried a session with the live stream format yet, so different issues may arise. There were definitely more technical considerations to address, which I plan to share in a follow up post.