Web conferencing refers to a service that allows conferencing events to be shared with remote locations. Most vendors also provide either a recorded copy of an event, or a means for a subscriber to record an event. The service allows information to be shared simultaneously, across geographically dispersed locations in nearly real-time. Applications for web conferencing include meetings, training events, lectures, or short presentations from any computer. A participant can be either an individual person or a group. System requirements that allow individuals within a group to participate as individuals (e.g. when an audience participant asks a question) depend on the size of the group. Handling such requirements is often the responsibility of the group. In general, system requirements depend on the vendor. The service is made possible by Internet technologies, particularly on IP/TCP connections.
Some solutions require additional software to be installed (usually via download) by the presenter and participants, while others eliminate this step by providing physical hardware. Some vendors provide a complete solution while other vendors enhance existing technologies. Most also provide a means of interfacing with email and calendaring clients in order that customers can plan an event and share information about it, in advance.
Support for planning a shared event is typically integrated with calendar and email applications. The method of controlling access to an event is provided by the vendor. Additional value-added features are included as desired by vendors who provide them. As with any technology, these features are limited only by the imagination.
The term webinar is a neologism, short for Web-based Seminar, a presentation, lecture, workshop or seminar that is transmitted over the Web, specifically a portmanteau of web & seminar, to describe a specific type of web conference. Some argue that webinars might be one-way, from the speaker to the audience with limited audience interaction, so one-way broadcasts are perhaps more accurately called webcasts. Webinars themselves may be more collaborative and include polling and question & answer sessions to allow full participation between the audience and the presenter. In some cases, the presenter may speak over a standard telephone line, while pointing out information being presented onscreen, and the audience can respond over their own telephones, speaker phones allowing the greatest comfort and convenience. There are web conferencing technologies on the market that have incorporated the use of VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) audio technology, to allow for a completely web-based communication. Depending upon the provider, webinars may provide hidden or anonymous participant functionality, making participants unaware of other participants in the same meeting.
For interactive online workshops web conferences are complemented by electronic meeting systems (EMS) which provide a range of online facilitation tools such as brainstorming and categorization, a range of voting methods or structured discussions, typically with optional anonymity. Typically, EMS do not provide core web conferencing functionality such as screen sharing or voice conferencing though some EMS can control web conferencing sessions.