SlideShare Wants to Make Web-Based Meetings Easier With Zipcast

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SlideShare, the web-based service that allows you to upload a PowerPoint presentation and share it with others, today launched a new feature: a web-based meeting service called Zipcast that runs in any modern web browser without requiring a download. Anyone with a SlideShare account now gets their own custom URL where they can host meetings using the feature, said CEO and co-founder Rashmi Sinha, and there is no limit on the number of people who can take part in a meeting. The new feature comes with both a free and for-pay option.

Sinha said in an interview that SlideShare’s research showed the number one use case for online meetings is to get together with colleagues and look at a presentation or slideshow, so the feature seemed like a natural extension of the company’s core offering. And most of the other tools for web-based meetings “are stuck in the 1990s,” said the SlideShare CEO. “You have to download and install something, and it takes a long time to start up, and then it is really slow — Zipcast just runs in the browser, nothing to download, it just works.”

Zipcast works in a browser because it is based on the cross-platform standard HTML5 rather than older technologies, said Sinha. That also makes the feature much faster and more interactive than a lot of competing services — and because it is simply another tab in a user’s browser, it’s easy to move back and forth from the Zipcast meeting to other things, or to share and link to websites from within the service. “We made sure that it was really integrated into the social web,” the SlideShare CEO said. “You can tweet a link to the meeting, you can share it on Facebook and invite people to join with just a click.”

During a demonstration prior to the launch, the Zipcast meeting definitely seemed a lot faster than meetings using WebEx (which is owned by Cisco) or other similar tools such as GoToMeeting, which can be slow and cumbersome even with a fast connection. While watching the meeting in a video window and taking part in a live chat in another window, users can easily click back and forth through the slides in the presentation, and they can also login quickly with their Facebook accounts.

Zipcast’s free version allows an unlimited number of users but includes advertising, while the paid version starts at $19 a month and includes a dedicated teleconference number for two-way audio, SlideShare said, and users who pay can also password-protect their meetings. The new feature competes with WebEx and GoToMeeting (from Citrix), as well as newer web-based solutions such as DimDim (recently acquired by Salesforce) and Microsoft’s LiveMeeting, although most of these have limits on the number of users for their free versions and have higher monthly fees for the paid versions.

Sinha said that Zipcast can offer unlimited numbers of meeting participants because the feature is built in HTML5 so the load on servers is reduced, and because SlideShare already has the scale to serve the more than 45 million unique visitors it gets a month. The four-year-old company, which is based in San Francisco, has received $3 million in venture funding from funds such as Venrock, as well as individual investors including Dave McClure and Mark Cuban.

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