UberConference Brings the Web to Audio Conferencing
A new service from Google's venture arm tries to fix some of the most annoying things about audio conferences.
We all do it, and we all dread it--the traditional audio conference. FireSpotter Labs has now launched a new service called UberConference aimed squarely at the major audio conferencing providers. While many emerging service providers offer various forms of web-based conferencing, UberConference instead uses the web to enhance traditional PSTN conferencing. It does so with a web-control panel that gives participants visibility and control over the conference.
FireSpotter Labs is a Google Ventures company headed by Craig Walker, formerly of Google Voice. FireSpotter was initially focusing on non-telecom services such as Nosh, which targeted the restaurant industry. Restaurants lead to tips, and a tip leads to ring, and so (perhaps coincidentally) FireSpotter is back in telecom.
Craig observed that the audio conferencing industry hasn't really evolved much over the past 30 years--and that their services frustrate many of us. He thinks that too many people are dialing into bridges, entering access codes, and conducting meetings in a very inefficient and non-productive manner. He is referring to the complex codes, chimes announcing each join and exit, the inability to have sidebar conversations, and frequent disruptions from background noises. He feels that the services are not only obsolete, but overpriced as well.
Craig knows a few things about telecom services. Prior to Google Voice, he was the CEO of DialPad, which Yahoo acquired. He ran Grand Central, which became Google Voice, and left there to head up FireSpotter Labs in 2010. He pulled together a new telecom team, and created this new conferencing service, which he launched at the Tech Crunch Disrupt conference in New York:
Some of the ways the UberConference improves upon traditional audioconferencing include:
UberConference will get around room/PIN codes by using CallerID. Participants will receive an email and text message before the conference. Assuming they dial from the number associated with the reservation, they will be dropped directly into the conference--or they can request that UberConference initiate the call at the time of the conference.
The conference portal provides visual information about the conference. All participants can see who is on the call and who is speaking (or at least who is making noise). The conference organizer has rights to add, drop, and mute callers. It also provides participants a social page which can contain links to participant profiles at LinkedIn, Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter. After the conference, the portal displays a summary of who was there, and other statistics.
With such innovative technology and features, it's not surprising that UberConference is also adopting a potentially disruptive pricing model--the service will follow a freemium model with future premium services likely associated with conference size and transcription.
Perhaps surprisingly, UberConference will not initially support web based calls. All participants must connect over the PSTN. This precludes wideband (HD) audio conferencing. FireSpotter Labs is a Google Incubator company, so the future prospects of integration with G’Chat, Google Plus, and possibly even WebRTC are certainly within reason.
Craig "launched" UberConference, but the service is not yet available. The website is accepting early access requests, but there is no indication when the service goes live.
Dave Michels is a contributing editor and independent analyst at TalkingPointz.com