At AIDS.gov, we work with HIV organizations from all over the country (and sometimes the world!). Often it’s not possible to sit at the same table so we rely on virtual ways to connect. Webcasts, web conferences, and webinars are ways to connect with each other and efficiently share information in cyberspace. These terms are still emerging and are commonly used imprecisely. To make matters more confusing, “web conferencing” is often also used generically, to describe the online technology used by all three forms of communication. If you are considering any of these tools, it might be helpful to think in terms of what you are trying to accomplish, the size and type of your audience, and the need for reusability/later viewing.
A webcast is a way of broadcasting over the Internet — analogous to a broadcast television program. The primary purpose of a webcast is to transmit a message to a large number of people. For example, “CDC’s Act Against AIDS used a webcast to share information for a press conference. Kaiser Family Foundation’s HealthCast is another example of webcasting. You can participate from your own computer, and often can interact by phone or online through the webcasting program. Webcasts can be captured and made available for later viewing/listening. Because they tend to be high bandwidth video feeds, they are usually viewed streaming on the web, rather than downloaded to the user’s computer.
Web conferences are used to conduct live meetings or presentations where you can sit at your own computer and can connect to other participants via the Internet. The primary purpose of a web conference is to collaborate with others who are not physically in the same place at the same time. It is analogous to a business/team meeting. Web conferencing tends to be most useful to smaller groups or teams of people.
A webinar, on the other hand, is a specific type of web conference — a web-based seminar. It is typically one-way, from the speaker to the audience. A webinar can be very collaborative and include polling and question and answer sessions. In some cases, the presenter may speak over a standard telephone line, pointing out information being presented on-screen and the audience can respond over their own telephones. Our AIDS.gov webinar on Underserved Communities and New Media Use is one example of this type of web conference. The primary purpose of a webinar is to train. It is analogous to a training seminar. Webinars can be posted online for later viewing, but, because they often include phone and desktop sharing/slide presentations, it is harder to capture the entire experience.
So, how can individuals and organizations use webcasts, web conferences, and webinars to respond to HIV? One way is to host meetings with colleagues in the HIV community from across the country and around the world. You can also use webcasts to share HIV information, as we did for our webcast on the state of AIDS in the U.S. And you can use webinars to conduct trainings about HIV-related topics — TARGET Center’s web conferences are an example of this type of use.
Two of the many vendors that offer services for online meetings are WebEx and GoTo Webinar . Both vendors can record meetings and presentations. Still feeling confused about the distinction between these types of communication? Infinite Conferencing has an article that further clarifies the distinction between webinars, webcasts, and web conferences .
Do you find webcasts, web conferences and webinars a useful way to receive HIV information? What do you see as the trade-offs between this type of virtual meeting, and more traditional in-person meetings and conferences? Leave a comment and tell us about it!