In general, web conferencing is made possible by Internet technologies, particularly on TCP/IP connections. Services may allow real-time point-to-point communications as well as multicast communications from one sender to many receivers. It offers data streams of text-based messages, voice and video chat to be shared simultaneously, across geographically dispersed locations. Applications for web conferencing include meetings, training events, lectures, or presentations from a web-connected computer to other web-connected computers.


The term "webcast" derives from its original similarity to a radio or television broadcast. Early usage referred purely to transmission and consumption of streaming audio and video via the World Wide Web. Over time, webcast software vendors have added many of the same functional capabilities found in webinar software, blurring the distinction between the two terms. Webcasts are now likely to allow audience response to polls, text communication with presenters or other audience members, and other two-way communications that complement the consumption of the streamed audio/video content.
For example, if you’re hosting a webinar on how to use WordPress blogs, and participants are asking a lot about increasing traffic, you could position your email like this: “I’m getting a lot of questions about boosting traffic to your blogs, so I’m throwing in a bonus how-to guide which will be sold later for $97, but you’ll get it free if you act now.”
In February 1998, Starlight Networks[22] released StarLive! (the exclamation point being part of the product name).[23] The press release said "customers can access familiar Web browser interfaces to view live and pre-recorded corporate presentations, along with synchronized slides. End users can communicate directly with the presenter using real-time chat technology and other Web-based collaboration tools."

Real-time text chat facilities such as IRC appeared in the late 1980s. Web-based chat and instant messaging software appeared in the mid-1990s. The PLATO computer learning system allowed students to collaborate on networked computers to accomplish learning tasks as early as the 1960s, but the early networking was not accomplished via the World Wide Web and PLATO's collaborative goals were not consistent with the presenter-audience dynamic typical of web conferencing systems.[8] PLATO II, in 1961, featured two users at once.[9]

In May 1995, PictureTel announced LiveShare Plus[15] as a general-use data collaboration product for Windows-based personal computers. The software allowed application sharing, user-granted control of a remote PC, shared whiteboard markup, file transfer, and text messaging. List price was given as $249 per computer. PictureTel referenced an agreement with Microsoft in its announcement press release, and a May 26, 1995 memo from Bill Gates to Microsoft executive staff and direct reports said "Our PictureTel screen sharing client allowing Window sharing should work easily across the Internet."[16]
Presentation of visual materials most often is accomplished through one of two primary methodologies. The web conferencing software may show participants an image of the presenter's computer screen (or desktop). Again, depending upon the product, the software may show the entire visible desktop area or may allow selection of a physical area or application running on the presenter's computer. The second method relies on an upload and conversion process (most commonly consisting of Microsoft PowerPoint files, other Microsoft Office electronic documents, or Adobe PDF documents).
Web conferencing may be used as an umbrella term for various types of online collaborative services including web seminars ("webinars"), webcasts, and peer-level web meetings. It may also be used in a more narrow sense to refer only to the peer-level web meeting context, in an attempt to disambiguate it from the other types of collaborative sessions.[1] Terminology related to these technologies is inexact, and no generally agreed upon source or standards organization exists to provide an established usage reference.
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