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Adobe Connect web-conferencing: the devil is in the details!

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Summary: If you are looking for a web conferencing solution that is simple enough to use but complex enough to cope with commercial or educational web conferences (whether they are webinars, training sessions, live seminars, etc.) that is easy to use, accessible and affordable, have a look at a hidden, highly-underrated gem from Adobe: Adobe Connect (AC). Having dozens, perhaps hundreds of competitors, Adobe Connect (AC) stands out through its details that give the solution a flavour hard to resist.

Context: Have been using Adobe Connect for a variety of purposes (teaching, learning, commercial, meetings) since 2012 when I carried out a little bit of research to see what solution would tick all (or most of) the boxes for my job at the time. Currently working and using it in an educational setting. Not employed nor paid/incentivized by Adobe.

Description: AC is a web conferencing platform hosted by Adobe (with options for internal deployment for institutions) which allows users to participate in an online meeting without installing anything on local machines. It simply requires Flash Player (which most computers already have) or a free mobile app for tables and mobile phones. To join a meeting, a user can simply click on the invitation link, type their name and join. For those with poor internet connection, AC has an additional option of audio telephony (at extra cost) where the user can dial a landline number or a toll-free 0800 number and use that instead of the PC headset for listening and communicating.

The platform is extremely flexible and caters for most needs and scenarios of usage. Whether one wishes to use AC for discussion, collaboration, separate classrooms, desktop sharing and remote control, presentation with Q&A, webinar, etc. they can do so by selecting from the menu what they want to use it for. All such meetings can be recorded and made available to specific users or public straight after the recording has finished. There is also a small editor for such recordings and hosts can edit out the recordings before releasing them.

The main platform is very powerful customisation-wise: users can drag and move the interaction blocks (pods) and also new customised pods can be added freely (some are premium, paid). For example if one has a Flash application (game, countdown timer, etc.) they can add it to the platform.

In the past I have used such Flash applications to embed YouTube video within it, add visitors lounge with countdown timer for next session and background music (while waiting), messages, voting apps, etc.

Furthermore, participants can have a complete experience whilst using Adobe Connect. If there is a need for a teaching environment, a whiteboard facility is available and the presenter can make available for students files to download, PowerPoint with annotations, other notes, polls, live chat. If there is a formal meeting environment needed, participants can use a live interactive agenda, notes, webcams, etc. The whole experience from access to netiquette is taken care of.

Finally, content can be uploaded and set-up in advance so that when the presenter (or guest speaker) joins, everything is ready to run. This saves the last-minute problems and delays and gives the opportunity for presenters to prepare in a timely fashion and test everything before the live event.

In my current workplace, Adobe Connect is being used by Human Resources department for interviewing remote candidates unable to be here physically, it is being used to deliver online postgraduate courses and it also supports and facilitates blended learning programmes.

We are using the on-cloud solution, hosted with Adobe. At the moment, as a negative point, it seems that their servers are quite overloaded and there hasn’t been much investment recently towards a) infrastructure and B) codecs and audio processing so that sound is as clear as some of the other competitors (Google, Skype, etc.) Also, on the same negative note, the maximum video resolution supported is 480p. It is understandable to have limits on video (for bandwidth and quality) for large groups of participants but on a small number of participants it would be good to have a higher resolution for video, given the current market trends. If one were to deploy the hosted version of Adobe Connect, they can adjust and with some hard work “hack” some parts of the product to improve call and video quality. However, the pricing for hosted solutions is quite prohibitive and its maintenance may become a burden in the long run.

However, what makes Adobe Connect so attractive and better than its competitors? (The likes of Google, Skype, WebEx, Lync, Blackboard Collaborate, etc.)

  • It’s pricing of about £27.50/month/license (based on annual subscription) or £600 for 5 licenses per year, excluding set-up fees, audio telephony (if applicable) and VAT.
  • Users don’t need to install anything to join. Simply click on the URL and join
  • Meetings can be recorded and made available
  • Flexible layouts, small features and functionality that helps any host run smooth meetings
  • Free mobile app versions which allows users to attend meetings on the go
  • 24/7/365 support via phone, live chat or email in multiple languages
  • Overall good value for money for an easy to use system that delivers.

Verdict: A web conferencing platform that can be used in a variety of ways to facilitate communication, learning and collaborative work. It bridges certain gaps and their support is fantastic. They do need some investment in audio and video quality and perhaps more customer interaction with a clear and good marketing strategy in providing roadmap, truly listening to feedback and engaging users but overall, it is an excellent solution for a low-budget good-quality web conference set-up. 8.5/10

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