Why Free Meetings Matter for Innovation – A Hackathon Experience

Video calls as we know it today started over 14 years ago in 2003 by Skype, which enabled any two people with proper access to internet connections to have a video call for free. Other major service providers followed suit, Apple introduced FaceTime service for the first time in 2010, and Google caught up with Hangouts 10 years later in 2013. Since then, a wide range of small and big players joined the trend to allow peer-to-peer video communication along with text chats or voice-only calls over an internet connection.

In parallel, the convenient and potential productivity of online meetings was increasingly appealing and technology pioneers immediately perceived the value and raced to build group meeting services for businesses and organizations. WebEx, after a series of developing collaboration software and messaging applications, announced its web conferencing solution which was eventually acquired by Cisco. Skype for business was announced after the Microsoft acquisition of Skype which aligned with the Office Communicator service that Microsoft was offering a few years prior to that. In between, many other organizations, small and large, such as GoToMeeting, zoom.us, join.me, started offering their solutions with features such as screen sharing, whiteboard, etc. Nowadays, an organization uses one of those solutions to meet online, and being more or less similar, there is one factor to make a decision which one to use: cost.

The usual business model in using commercial meeting software is to charge per ‘host’ (how many users can initiate and host a meeting). While such a business model follows the overall cloud rational (pay-per-use), there is a big issue with it which has set back many groups and industries looking to use commercial meeting software: many small and innovative groups of talented individual who can greatly benefit from an online collaboration environment, cannot afford the cost. Startups, not-for-profit organizations and educational institutes are among many.

The other issue that has blocked the innovation and how group meeting software can be used is a user experience issue: almost all of the meeting software solutions are SaaS model and in order to use them, users must leave the current environment or platform they are using, and use the fixed meeting room designed for it. That includes both the layout and what features are available to a user.

I argue that group meeting is a commodity. It must be free for anyone to create as many meetings as needed, invite as any attendees, and use for unlimited time.

The second important item is to let different solutions and software adopt and embed a meeting experience inside their own environment. For example, a doctor-patient portal or a dating service providers must have the ultimate flexibility on where to launch a meeting, whom invite to, what features make available to them, and how to handle the data and features of the meeting.

Lastly, a meeting platform must be open to allow talented and innovative developers to add the features they want to add to it.

At iTutorGroup, we have been building such platform, called Liveh2h or “Live Human-2-Human”, to make all of the above three criteria possible:

  1. Anyone can use it for free for group calling, virtually unlimited number of attendees can join a session. No matter if it is a large enterprise or a student group working on their homework, anyone can use it free of charge.

It also doesn’t require to have an account to host or join a meeting. We have learned, even though having an account enables the users to do more (schedule future meetings, record a meeting, integrate with address book, etc.) the fact that anyone can start a meeting instantly, makes it extremely easier to run group meetings.

2. Anyone can adopt it inside their own software as a turn-key solution. It is a fully API/SDK enabled solution that can be integrate with web, iOS and Android.

3. Anyone can build new features or modules on top of it, or integrate it with other services and solutions.

In January of this year we ran a hackathon in San Francisco and even though the first version of our API and SDK is still being developed and updated, a small group of developers built applications around ideas in 24 hours that we hadn’t considered before!

For example, a team of three developers integrated the live stream video with a facial recognition system which measures engagement level of attendees in a meeting or webinar based on facial expressions, whether attendees are watching enthusiastically or falling sleep and it is time to wake them up. Another team integrated a screen capture feature to post a handwritten note to the whiteboard by using camera without a need to upload it. Another team worked on a TA Assistant chat bot. Yet another team worked on creating an easy way to connect to an expert on a website without the need to have an account or login. Other teams worked on user design approaches, unique voice-to-text integrations, and more.

The level of innovation and passion to come up with new ideas was phenomenal, and it all happened because the platform enables creating meetings for free.

Studies show that when our tasks and expected deliverable are well-defined, working remotely or from home can be effective when uninterrupted. On the other side, when a task involves creativity and innovation, we need to collaborate and interact with peers, to form and grow ideas. A free, flexible, and adaptable human-to-human environment is enabling both scenarios: allowing remote employees to focus and connect when needed, or being in a collaborative environment to participate in discussions and projects, from anywhere.

As it is said, it is not about B2C or B2B anymore, it is about H2H, Human-to-Human.