Collaboration technology update: Niche videoconferencing tools

Written by Maya Middlemiss

November 18, 2020

For many people, 2020 may well be remembered as the year they really got to know and love/hate either Microsoft Teams, or Zoom, depending on what kind of organisation they worked in. These two behemoths went head to head for market share in Q2 particularly, as the world went remote – extending generous free offers ,or embarking on cynical data land grabs depending on your perspective, and they hoovered up a huge chunk of the market between them, leaving even Google Meet behind for dust. 

But these 3 popular tools represent only a small subsection of the diverse set of offerings now available for talking to people in work meetings via video, and depending on how you work, there might be others which actually suit your needs better. The demand and innovation which propelled the brands you know about, also helped create new opportunities for those with different offerings designed for less mass-market uses, and it’s been an exciting time for new product launches in the space overall (as well as bringing some old favourites back into the spotlight).

A word of warning, as discussed in Out of the Office: Making the transition to working from home it is easy to get distracted by shiny new tools, especially ones that seem to do something you’re familiar with that little bit more effectively or differently or with a unique twist. I wanted to provide this round-up of apps to give you something to think about, but not to rush off and sign your life away for! Please invest your time wisely in reading and research, before downloading any distracting free trials or uprooting a workflow that already serves you well. It’s often well worth going beyond the market leading tools for special functionality, but only when it truly makes sense for the way you will put the tool to use.

Signalwire Work

SignalWire logo

This browser-based tool is based around always-on video collaboration, as a way to co-work from home or anywhere – with perpetual rooms open from a single dashboard, which can mimic the lobby of a busy office building. You can hop in and out of teams and sessions at will, whether to collaborate actively, or simply work alongside one another on your own stuff while in do not disturb mode.  

I spoke to their COO Sean Heiney in the summer who explained “we didn’t want a load of ad-hoc meetings, we wanted to be able to have informal conversations and office banter and watercooler talk, but more importantly to be able to just pop in and talk to someone when you get an idea to share”. 

If you like the idea of feeling like your colleagues are always a tap away from either intense collaborative work or sharing a quick notion or joke, then this might be worth a deeper look. It’s always interesting too, to see what innovations come out of crisis, and the Signalwire team built this tool to serve the way they wanted to go on working together, when they couldn’t come to the office. 

Signalwire Work is highly customisable and configurable, for teams with their own expertise in this space, to build a digital workspace that is truly their own – a common complaint about some of the popular platforms with their very fixed look and feel.  So you could use it to create a strongly branded ‘digital office’, where everyone will instantly feel at home as a team member, or recognise your territory and its values if you visit as a guest.


Gotomeeting logo

By contrast other players in the market have been around for a lot longer, in this case since 2004 – many years ‘BC’, and bringing the reassurance of enduring existence without the Microsoft price tag.

GoToMeeting hasn’t sat on its laurels though and as well as offering the kind of collaboration tools now considered table stakes – like HD mobile apps, screen-sharing, and so on – they have a useful hardware bundle kit, which lets managers ship out a high-quality meeting in a box to new homeworkers, as well as flexible pricing which scales up to groups of 150 participants if you need it.

I am including it here to remind you that while innovation is great, there’s a lot to be said for committing to brands which have stood the test of time while still developing and evolving. And reassuringly corporate doesn’t always have to mean Microsoft.


Callbridge logo

If you want as much smart support on your side as possible Callbridge by iotum is worth a look, and their unique intelligent indexing capabilities are transforming the nature of business decision making and record keeping.

By turning each meeting recording into a fully searchable transcript and tag cloud, meetings become so much more valuable as content in their own right. Just consider the hours of conversation you have in video calls, so much of which doesn’t go anywhere or lead to action that drives the business forward, and in most circumstances probably never gets looked at again. Yet such a lot of important stuff is locked away in there.

I interviewed Callbridge CEO Jason Martin about this recently for UC Today, and he explained:

“We think of productivity tools as things that manufacture content, but a meeting is a form of content, and video collaboration is an emerging type of content that’s being produced in real time. 

“Often when people talk and generate ideas, they understand things better and agree on something, and that is what’s captured by our neural network Q, the AI element of Callbridge.”

I think this has really exciting potential to change the way people communicate in business at every level – from holding executives accountable for key deliverables, to identifying patterns of harassment and discrimination that have simply never been on the record before.  

I really like the idea of being able to search across all my meetings for references to a specific project or theme or event, and then being able to jump to the right bit of the recording and transcript to see exactly what was said.


Wire logo

While all modern videoconferencing and messaging platforms come with reliable encryption these days, some business communications are simply more sensitive than others, and Wire is built for those conversations which would ideally not take place online at all  – and when they have to, require the highest level of encryption. Wire is 100% open-source and independently audited — with an option to be tested against existing security and governance frameworks, being ISO, CCPA, GDPR and SOX-ready.

Perhaps you don’t have to worry about any of that, in which case this isn’t the tool you need. But if you do, you know how important it is.

Given the way so many organisations jumped in to online collaboration this year, it’s actually really surprising to me that we haven’t witnessed more major security breaches and data losses. Not only are people using a vast range of personal devices and shadow IT to get their work done in difficult circumstances, it’s natural that people’s guards are lowered in such circumstances, and heaven knows bad actors are quick to exploit any natural disaster with their evil opportunism.

So if you need rock solid encryption and security for all your business communications (not just video), take a closer look at Wire.

Facebook Workplace

Facebook workplace

On the other hand, perhaps you want your team communications to look and feel more like a social network – using visual cues and functions that everyone is familiar and comfortable with, and encouraging easy sociability and interaction on a continuous basis.

Workplace from Facebook is all about helping people feel connected with their organisation and teams wherever they are, getting collaboration done in a way which feels very familiar and comfortable, and doubtless provided a lot of reassuring touches during the pandemic. 

The main draw has got to be the sheer ease of adoption and onboarding, because of the familiar functionality, as well as enabling a wide range of engagement – from live video calls and comments, to simply liking with a click, to show connectedness and approval.

Perhaps this is a side of Facebook you never knew existed, but there are many parallels between social networking and online collaboration, that teams can leverage to be productive together.  (Don’t forget though, that while relating and connecting to colleagues has intrinsic value, it’s also very easy to procrastinate too, and time flies when you’re having fun).

And there are hundreds more…

So, while you could easily spend your life hoping from one new tool to the next and I would never dream of recommending this, it is worth exploring just a bit beyond the most obvious marketing leading choices, if you’re considering which video platform to adopt for your team or business.

While in many ways they are all very similar, the sheer size of the market out there now means that interesting differentiation is increasingly occurring, to serve diverse needs. As we all grow ever more comfortable with video calling as part of our everyday business communications, we’re becoming more picky about the software we use – and the collaboration technology market is offering us more and more choice all the time.


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