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COTA: Uber-improvement made to high-tech conference calls

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Jim Cota

There’s a significant amount of evidence, both empirical and anecdotal, that suggests you really need to meet face-to-face with your clients and customers periodically.

Of course, the reality of your working life might make this difficult. If so, you’re probably relying on conference calls to keep in touch and ensure projects are progressing. For the most part, these calls work, but they certainly have their limitations, including bad connections, awful hold music, lack of general control, little or no insight about the people in attendance, and those weird moments when you wonder, “Who just said that?”

I’ve been trying a new solution recently that seems to solve these problems and more, even with the free version. It’s called ÜberConference (www.uberconference.com) and so far it’s living up to its name, differentiating itself from other meeting sites by, among other elements, its ability to quickly and easily identify who is talking.

When you sign up for an account, you’re assigned a specific phone number, PIN, and Web address for your conferences. The rest of the onboarding process is simple and clean, following the cues of this beautiful site. 

You can easily upload your contacts to make it simple to invite people to a conference. Or, if you prefer, you can use an ad hoc feature to invite people as necessary.

When you’re on an ÜberConference, you can open the conference page in your Web browser to access a bevy of tools. You can see icons for everyone who is on the call, and each time the speaker changes, that person is shown at the top of the page. As the conference moderator, you can mute attendees who might be contributing excessive background noise, or—with an exclusive Earmuff feature—allow specific members to have a private sidebar right in the middle of the call.

Want to know more about an attendee? Simply click an icon to instantly see his or her social media footprint, something the other services don’t yet offer. You’ll have access to a complete LinkedIn profile and recent Twitter, Facebook and Google+ activity.

All of this is available immediately with the free version of ÜberConference. By completing some easy tasks, you can unlock additional features like call recording and increased conference sizes. With the Pro version, you can get a local number, have ÜberConference initiate the call by dialing all participants, remove the system branding, and create recurring events.

(You can also select your own hold music, but it would have to be pretty awesome to replace the default, which tells the unfortunate tale of a man on hold, all day, waiting for his conference to begin.) For an additional fee, there’s a toll-free number.

While on a call yesterday, I discovered the ability to share my Evernote files with attendees. This was a great way to let everyone get a look at the notes I was taking and weigh in on any changes they felt necessary before the notes were finalized. If Evernote isn’t your thing, you can also share Box notes.

When the call is complete, two important things happen.

First, the system asks a couple of quick questions to see how the call went. It’s primarily looking for hiccups and problems, not whether you felt someone didn’t offer enough participation (you’ll get that information soon enough). On one recent call, we had a minor issue with a slight delay on the line. When I mentioned this on the feedback mechanism, I was contacted by a customer service specialist within 12 hours for additional information to help solve the problem.

You’ll also get a Call Summary report at the conclusion of each call. It contains the date and time of the call, the duration, a transcript of any chatting that took place, a link to files that were shared, and a recording of the call. I’ve taken to storing these reports within Evernote and our project management tool and they serve as a great reminder of what was discussed and the next steps for the team.

In the event you’re not tethered to your computer and still need to be available for calls, ÜberConference released mobile apps for both iOS and Android in December. The app works remarkably well and the experience is every bit as good, offering nearly all the same features as the desktop version.

“You can see who’s on, who isn’t on, who’s speaking; you can click on them, and you have all the same controls with muting and earmuffs and everything else. You can get all the social information, too,” explains Craig Walker, CEO of Firespotter Labs, which makes ÜberConference.

That’s all great, but I don’t recommend using any of it while you’re driving.•

__________

Cota is president and co-founder of Rare Bird Inc., a marketing communications firm specializing in Internet application development. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.

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