UPDATE: It was just announced that Google is moving Hangouts on Air to YouTube Live. How this will effect WebinarJam and similarly built products is not yet known. I’ll be writing a new post once I know more. However, this highlights the risks of the WebinarJam design, as explained in the article below.
Product integration can be a tricky thing. This is especially true when you have zero control over one of the products with which you integrate. At least two webinar products on the market right now integrate with Google Hangouts, WebinarJam and a WordPress plugin called Webinarignition. I’ve not used Webinarignition but I’m guessing they got hit by the same disaster that WebinarJam did.
My wife logged on to a WebinarJam powered webinar and was greeted by the following error message: “Watch this video on YouTube. Playback on other websites has been disabled by the video owner.”
The whole point of WebinarJam is an integrated experience that includes chat and other features provided by the Jam software and an embedded Google Hangout feed. What you don’t want is to force webinar participants to go over to YouTube to watch the streaming webinar. So what happened?
Unbeknownst to the WebinarJam developers, Google had changed embed rules on YouTube. This rendered webinars near useless for the vast majority of WebinarJam users.
Later in the day, a mea culpa email was sent out by Andy Jenkins, the co-founder of WebinarJam. Well, it wasn’t actually a mea culpa. It was more a “it’s Google’s fault” email. Jenkins wrote:
As usual, Google doesn’t notify us about changes to their interface, and this time was no exception.
With due respect, I’m not buying that reasoning. Google is a huge enterprise. WebinarJam and other players who connect to Google via API’s are usually not huge enterprises. Google likely doesn’t even know of every company taking advantage of their functionality. The onus is on companies like WebinarJam to keep abreast of any changes in software with which they integrate. If that is impossible, then perhaps there is a fundamental design flaw in building a webinar platform on top of an independent broadcast platform in the first place? You don’t tend to see these sorts of problems with products like GoToWebinar, WebEx, Adobe Connect or Webinato, all of which have relatively self-contained software ecosystems.
WebinarJam and similarly architected products have been skating on thin ice from the beginning because the integration with Google Hangouts is sub-optimal. WebinarJam has a built in video delay as the video stream goes through Hangouts, gets recorded by YouTube and THEN appears at the attendees desktop. This creates anywhere from a 5 second to 60 second delay depending on various factors beyond the webinar producer’s control. In their documentation, WebinarJam is quite up front about this. Unfortunately the delay can cause realtime activity in the Jam interface (chat, polls, video play) to precede the corresponding Hangouts feed. You may tell your audience “I’m going to launch a poll” but by the time they see you say this, the poll has already launched. Disclaimer: I offer WebinarJam as a platform to my clients primarily due to its ability to reach an unlimited audience. BUT I also make sure the production takes into account WebinarJam’s limitations so the audience still has an enjoyable experience.
On top of this inherent weakness there is always the possibility Google Hangouts or YouTube breaks, goes offline or changes. Such was the case Wednesday and it left a lot of webinar producers and attendees with a bad taste in their mouth. I haven’t contacted Andy Jenkins for his side of the story and if he reads this I’d be happy to update this post with his thoughts.
What has been your experience with WebinarJam? Please let me know in the comments below.
Have you got basic questions about webinars? Perhaps my free FAQ booklet can help?