The Conference Call Is Dead

And good riddance. There's a better way to do phone meetings.


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Posted September 12, 2007

Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

I don't know about you, but I find myself sitting through more than a dozen conference calls per month. Conference calls haven't changed much in the past couple of decades. They're still an unproductive and annoying waste of time.

A typical corporate conference call involves participants invited via e-mail to "call in" using the number given by the meeting organizer, and often the meeting ID and passcode.

During conference calls, you often don't know who's talking. Some attendees take notes, some don't. Most people involved in the topic or project at hand are on the call, some aren't. People waste time by talking one-on-one to other participants, while everyone else sits there. When two or more people talk at once, you can't hear some or all of the speakers.

It's time to kill the conference call. There's a better way.

A two-year-old startup called TalkShoe rolled out a new VoIP service today called ShoePhone.

Unlike other VoIP services, ShoePhone offers a long list of features that make it an ideal replacement for the old-and-busted corporate conference call.

First, forget what you know about VoIP. ShoePhone is different. The service connects to any phone -- landline or mobile -- and other VoIP clients and services like Skype, SJphone and Gizmo. You initiate calls via VoIP, but the call is actually handled using a telco-grade conferencing system.

ShoePhone can handle up to 250 callers at once, plus thousands of additional people who can listen live without talking.

The whole call is then posted online for all to refer to later. Anyone who misses the meeting can still hear the whole thing. Even participants can replay the call, if they forgot an important detail.

During calls, participants can chat, so one-on-one communication doesn't disrupt the whole meeting. You can "pass notes" and coach people silently and privately.

One of the best features is that ShoePhone displays the name of whoever is talking. No more mistaken identity or time wasted by someone asking, "who's talking?"

ShoePhone features a mute button, text-chat censoring and a nice feature call "request-to-talk queuing" -- so only one person talks at once: first come, first served.

The company spins its TalkShoe service and ShoePhone feature as a VoIP podcasting. Podcast, Schmodcast. This is a great way to do conference calls.

The service is free. A senior vice president for the company told me they plan to monetize the service by collecting telco access revenue (just like any other telco does) and by placing advertising in recorded podcasts. Later this year, the company plans a premium ShoePhone service, which presumably will have additional features, no ads, and cost a one-time or monthly fee.

It requires no equipment to set up. To use it, sign up for TalkShoe, and follow the instructions to download and install the TalkShoe Live software. ShoePhone is available from the software.

I recommend that you try ShoePhone for small meetings of two or three people, then gradually build up to larger meetings as you gain confidence in and skill with the service.

It's time to dump the old conference call into the ash heap of corporate communication media where it can take its rightful place along side the teletype, the two-martini lunch and the fax machine.

With services like TalkShoe's ShoePhone around, there's no reason to torture ourselves any longer with conference calls.

Tags: Internet, call, conference call, phone, Web conference

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