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Looking for an easier way to set up a web conference or share presentations while you're on the run? You're not alone. The worldwide market for collaboration services--including audio conferences, web presentation sessions and various video meetings--logged its first $1 billion quarter in 2007, according to Wainhouse Research. Wainhouse researchers project that in North America alone, revenue from audio, video and web collaboration services will reach $4.4 billion by 2011, a compound annual growth rate of 8 percent.
It's little wonder that huge high-tech companies have rushed to stake a claim in the online collaboration market--Microsoft through its 2003 acquisition of PlaceWare (the backbone of its LiveMeeting service), and Cisco through its $3.2 billion buyout last year of WebEx. But these mammoth companies didn't bargain for the numerous free collaboration services popping up all over the web, many of which are designed by entrepreneurs fed up with the complexity of existing options.
One example is Yuuguu, which lets you easily set up combination conference calls and web collaboration sessions on the fly by sending someone an invitation through e-mail or IM. If you work regularly with a core team, you can create a private group and monitor when other members are available. But you can also invite nongroup members to participate, and it doesn't matter what sort of computer or phone they happen to be using: Yuuguu software works with PCs and Macs, and soon with mobile phones.
"Basically, you can see the status of the people you normally interact or work with," says Anish Kapoor, co-founder and CEO of Yuuguu. "With a click of the button, you can show them what you're looking at and bring them into a web conference--no scrounging around for conference calling details."
Kapoor says 30 percent to 40 percent of the participants in conferences hosted by his company connect from a location outside their traditional workplace. The service is free to participants except for the phone call. Of course, if you use Yuuguu with Skype, you can sidestep those charges, too.
Another application that supports free web meetings and conferences is Vyew from startup Simulat. You can set up an online session to share and annotate pretty much any type of document--all the different Microsoft Office file types, plus video, graphics, Adobe Flash files and screen captures. One drawback is that you can't yet share an application like you can with some of the big-name meeting services (such as GoToMeeting, Microsoft LiveMeeting and WebEx). And although using Vyew is free, you'll see ads during your conferences unless you opt for one of the premium subscription offerings.
If you're in a highly visual profession, you'll appreciate Twiddla, a free whiteboarding service with an audio function that lets a team mark up graphics, photos and even website designs over the internet. Twiddla is really easy to use, and if your content is highly visual, you can mark it up and make changes in a straightforward manner. Another cool feature: You can create a screen capture of whatever you're working on with your client or team.
Last but not least is newcomer Yugma. Like Vyew and Yuuguu, Yugma lets you hold spontaneous conference calls and share documents through a web browser. But it doesn't stop there: The software also includes full-blown desktop application sharing, extensive whiteboarding features and tight Skype integration, so you can use Yugma with anyone on your existing Skype contact list. Free for up to 10 users, Yugma works on PCs running Linux, Windows or Macintosh OSes. To support more users, you'll have to pay a monthly subscription fee, which starts at $19.95 per month for 20 users.