In a business made up of six people across five states, my colleagues and I are always looking for better ways to collaborate. We meet as a group once a week, using a variety of tools intended to help us work together better, see or hear each other more clearly, or contribute to a shared document in real time.
So I was intrigued when I saw a live demo of Fuze Meeting, a new collaboration product from San Francisco-based Fuze Box Inc. The company describes its product as “a web conferencing tool that lets you share everything on your screen in high resolution with anyone, anywhere, on any device.” Overall, I was impressed enough initially with its lower cost and potentially greater ease-of-use than big-name competitors like GoToMeeting from Citrix Systems Inc. and WebEx from Cisco Systems Inc. In particular, the design and layout of the service appeared unique, but I wondered how well this complex product would perform in a live business setting against such stiff completion.
My intention, like most small firms, was to use Fuze Meeting in regular weekly virtual staff meetings, but the company also recommends the tool to conduct sales presentations or training sessions, as well as to demo products or software.
So for our most recent weekly get to gether, I signed up for a test drive of Fuze Meeting, sent my colleagues an invitation with a link to click, and we had ourselves a real-life test. Here's our review.
- Fuze Meeting is easy to get going.
As advertised, Fuze really is a simple-to-use, web-based system. There’s nothing to download. And it works on most any computer and browser and on many mobile devices. GoToMeeting and WebEx, in comparison, usually have applications to download, which takes more effort to set up.
- It looks and feels cool.
No question, Fuze Meeting has an attractive layout and a nice iPad app that lets participants join a meeting from poolside if they wish. Users can share what’s on their screens and will enjoy nifty tools like digital yellow sticky notes that anyone can put precisely where they should go on a report, a graphic or a schematic. The cool factor is high.
- Over time, it can save you cash.
Fuze Meeting costs $29 per month for up to 25 attendees and 2 gigabyte of storage. If you want to let folks call in using your toll-free number, that’s another 6 cents per minute per person. But the tool also supports the voice-over-Internet software application Skype, which can reduce these per-minute charges. WebEx and GoToMeeting, by comparison, each cost about $50 per month for a similar product, and per-minute fees for toll-free number access boost the cost further.
- Fuze Meeting isn't as intuitive as it appears to be.
We found the web-based blackboard-like collaborative environment where files and videos are posted and then commented on to be surprisingly restrictive. Even our most web-savvy team member could not figure out how to upload documents and video for sharing for quite some time. And while it was easy for one person to share his screen with the group, we were flummoxed if someone else wanted a turn. Fuze Box didn't respond to requests for comment by press time.
- Performance can vary, and chat can be risky.
Yes, Fuze Meeting works on any machine -- but that doesn’t mean it works well. One of us, using a newer MacBook Pro, jumped into the meeting in less than 10 seconds. But on another, older Mac, that same user twiddled her thumbs for a full two minutes as the sign-on process crept along. Not good. Also, the seemingly cool chat feature has the potential to burn you -- and badly. A scroll bar at the bottom lets you choose whether you want your message to go to one person or to the whole group. Accidentally complain to the full meeting that, say, the boss is droning on again, and that call is going to go someplace you don’t want it to go.
- Identity management was sloppy.
If a participant in a meeting clicks away to another screen -- even to the FAQ on the home page or to another web page -- we couldn’t find a way to get back to the meeting easily. The only solution we could find was to go back to our e-mail invitation and sign in again -- this time arriving at the meeting as a second identity: that is, both Blum and Blum1, for example. By the end, one of us was up to Jill4. And that is not a solution for running an efficient meeting.
What to Do
Fuze Meeting is powerful and attractive once functioning -- but getting it fully operational for all your employees can take some serious tech skills. Tech-savvy shops that do a lot of web collaboration and don’t mind tinkering will enjoy the hip feel of Fuze Meeting. The mobile support is also very good. And firms can definitely save some money if the tool works for them.
But for those already using a collaboration tool, it’s best for now to go with something more traditional. It will probably work better for you.