Adobe have run public demonstration sessions of their applications for many years. You may call them webinars although the "terminology trend police" may frown on that term these days!

Recently they delivered a live session demonstrating the new features of the latest iteration of some of their Creative Cloud applications. Traditionally, during these sessions, Adobe have drunk their own champagne using Adobe Connect, an enterprise level solution with a proven track record, to deliver the training.

Before we go any further, do consider that they sell Adobe Connect to their clients as a solution for exactly this type of virtual learning scenario!

Blab.im

Enter Blab.im a service encouraging visitors to "Watch Live Conversations". In explanation the site adds "The internet’s most interesting interviews, talk shows, casual hangouts, debates, discussions, and live workshops in one place."

It's a great service for collaboration. It's instant, there's no barrier to entry, it's free and it has that seemingly irresistible allure of being new.

Obviously, on some level, most of us know new does not necessarily mean better, conversely nor does it necessarily mean worse.

As with any other service Blab.im will be more suited for some things than existing solutions while for other purposes it will not provide as rich an experience as existing services already provide. It's certainly great for less formal occasions and smaller groups. It's also an alternative for situations where you do not have access to high cost solutions such as Adobe Connect.

However, it is most definitely not better for every circumstance and that session from Adobe on Wednesday night was a case in point.

The Reality

There were four virtual presenters. One acting as host and the three others responsible for a third of the demonstration, each demonstrating a specific application.

The session started with all four of those involved sharing their web cam video.

Why?

I don't feel the need to actually see them to learn from what they have to say. However, I have a feeling I could be in the minority with that view.

Things got worse as they handed control of the session over to the subject matter expert who proceeded to share his screen, a simple and seamless task in Adobe Connect.

The first issue was him telling the audience that once he had shared his screen he wouldn't be able to see anything else – a situation that has happened to me but usually a system fault not a feature!

He duly shared his screen and it covered all of about 6-8% of the screen. I could find no way to resize it either. Luckily I was on a 27" iMac but despite that even I couldn't make out anything other than it looked like an Adobe app, which one I had no idea without his narration assuring me it was in fact Adobe Premiere Pro.

During his demonstration the video feeds from the remaining three hosts were still live so we had the rather dubious pleasure of watching them watch the demo! Superfluous at best and at worst completely distracting

The next issue was taking questions during the session. Unlike Adobe Connect's Question Pod feature Blab has a single scrolling chat window which needed to be used for both general chat and questions. However, the scrolling chat window wasn't scrolling backwards for him so earlier questions had vanished never to be answered without being re-entered.

A third issue was the layout of the screen. A large portion of the screen was displaying nothing but a large black frame on the video feed. Another huge swathe of it was given over to advertising other live sessions on Blab.im. Potentially losing your attendees to other sessions is the price of using a free service.

The Blab screen during an Adobe software demonstration session
The Blab screen during an Adobe software demonstration session
  1. Subject matter expert 1 video stream
  2. Subject matter expert 2 video stream
  3. Subject matter expert 3 video stream
  4. The actual application being demonstrated
  5. Chat panel
  6. Completely wasted space
  7. Advertising for other live sessions

Horses for Courses

I'm sure for certain circumstances Blab.im would be a wonderful experience. Sadly this scenario wasn't it. Is it not obvious that the "best" experience is to use what works in the precise situation you find yourself in?

A case in point: At MacBites we provide live coverage of Apple Events. We generally do it via Adobe Connect which is a great experience on a computer and a manageable experience on a mobile device. But what about a scenario where someone wants to listen to the chat but is driving home from work during the live broadcast? It most certainly wouldn't be the best experience for them. That's the sole reason why we also provide an audio only feed in addition to the video and chat. Simply copy and paste the URL into an audio app and you're done. Want to send the audio to your car speakers via bluetooth? You can. Stop for petrol and want to take your phone with you to the payment kiosk to carry on listening? You can.

An audio only feed is the best experience whilst driving. A full chat and video stream is a fuller experience when you're not. Provide both and let the attendee choose. There's plenty said about empowering the learner so run with it and trust them to manage their own participation.

It's Not the Technology, It's the Experience

The point is one size does not fit all. In their haste to embrace the latest, most talked about, technology they made a huge mistake.

For technology to be truly valuable it has to be transparent in use and this most certainly was not. I spent most of the session thinking of the ways using a different technology would have improved the experience.

The Lesson to be Learnt

Just because you can doesn't mean you should! Use what works not what's flavour of the month.