Thursday, June 04, 2009

DimDim web meeting disappointing

Last night I was scheduled to give a talk about how to use ICT to reduce carbon emissions. One technique is to telecommunicate and so I tired using the DimDim web meeting tool to allow people to participate online. It did not work well.

I was disappointed with DimDim. While it worked in test, it failed on the night. The major problem was with the audio, which for most of the time just produced a hiss.

There are confusingly several sets of controls for the audio and video with DimDim: one in the DimDim software itself and one in the Flash plug-in used for the audio and video. I tried to set these to minimise bandwidth use, but suspect I ended up with a conflict between the settings. I may have been better off leaving the defaults set.

What made the problem worse was DimDim's limited support for accessibility. Because I have trouble reading the text on the screen with the default font, I increase the size. DimDim's text then starts to overlap, making it hard to read. Also the Web 2 interaction is a bit problematic. I found pop up windows for setting parameters which did not fit on the screen and some times I found myself chasing the popups around the screen with the cursor. There are a lot of windows on the DimDim screen and it is hard to follow what is going on and give a presentation at the same time, even without the overlapping test and runaway popups.

Also I was using a desktop relay facility which I am not entirely happy with. With this you install an application which copies everything from your screen to the remote users. Apart from the security implications, the copy process slows down the host computer and there is the problem of the quantity of data to send. DimDim has a more efficient facility to share a web page, but at the last minute I found it is not compatible with the HTML Slidy web based presentation tool I use.

You can nominate a web page in DimDim and that page will then be opened in a window on the remote viewers computer screens. When you scroll down the web page their copies also scroll. When you click on a link, the new web page is opened on their screens as well. However, I found that JavaScript based navigation is not relayed to the remote user. So while I was clicking down through my slides on my screen, the remote viewer was stuck on the first slide.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

DimDim Web Conference for E-learning

DimDim is a web conferencing product popular for education. This is because it offers a free service for conferences with up to 20 participants. It also claims to require no software download and be open source. However, it uses Adobe Flash for the audio and video, so that needs to already be installed on the computer used. I found DimDim very easy to sign up for and start a conference with. It has the usual whiteboard, desktop and presentation sharing features of such products. One interesting feature is web co-browsing, where the presenter selects a web page and it is displayed on the participants screens, scrolling synchronised with the presenter's screen.

Co-browsing works very well with HTML Slidy presentations, such as my "Learning to lower costs and carbon emissions with ICT" (slides). This could be very useful for bandwidth efficient presentations, as the Slidy slides use a lot less storage than the typical Powerpoint or OpenOffice.Org presentation. With the video frame rate turned down (or off) and the audio reduced to telephone quality, the web conference would use very little bandwidth. USQ's ICE open source e-learning content creation system produces Slidy as part of a course package, which would then work well with DimDim.

One catch is that, for security reasons, DimDim does not work with web sites which require you to enter a user-id and password. I found that this stopped access to Moodle courses, even those which allow access without a user id (I will ask DimDim to fix this). Another limitation is that the web browsing is not recorded along with the audio, video and other content.

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