There are a lot of confusing, potentially redundant-sounding terms commonly used in the conferencing and collaboration space. For example, both web conferencing and video conferencing seem similar if not synonymous at first glance: both involve real-time communication between two or more parties from laptops, desktops or mobile devices.
While there are still important distinctions between these two technologies, it’s also important to remember that collaboration solutions are experiencing something of a convergence, where once-separate tools are increasingly blurring lines and becoming more similar in features and functionality.
So let’s answer the important question: what’s the difference between web conferencing and video conferencing?
Traditionally, the primary purpose of these tools has been document, file and project collaboration. Key web conferencing features were desktop sharing, application sharing and file sharing. In other words, a web conference is where you pulled parties together online to annotate a document, view a project in progress or get a walkthrough of a new website, software design, training procedure, etc.
While the best web conferencing services offered featured audio connections and also rudimentary video streaming capabilities, the focus was on the content being shared, and the features were designed accordingly. Web conferences were and continue to be primarily accessed through desktops and laptops. These online meetings required little additional investment, although as mobile devices and remote work have become more common, smartphones and tablets are increasingly popular methods for joining web conferencing meetings.
Video conferencing, on the other hand, centered on connecting people through video streams, often with very little other features involved. The goal of video conferencing was simply to bridge distance, recreating the experience of meeting in-person through webcams or even large, room-based video conferencing systems to facilitate group meetings.
While many organizations still utilize room-based video systems, and new software integrations are continually being developed to bring new collaboration technologies into those systems, the transition to cloud-based collaboration applications has made it just as common to have a video conference on a laptop, desktop or mobile device.
The Lines Are Blurring
A primary reason behind the confusion between these two conferencing terms is that the lines are increasingly blurring. As technology becomes more sophisticated, video-enabled endpoints more readily available and high-speed internet connections more common, both technologies have integrated features primarily reserved for the other in response to market demands.
While web conferencing was traditionally designed primarily as a content-sharing and collaboration platform, web conferences are increasingly centering around streaming and HD video streams between guests in addition to document collaboration.
And though video conferencing still places its emphasis on emulating in-person meetings with the focus on video, many tools have been added like screen sharing, file sharing and other features that used to be entirely the purview of web conferencing solutions.
Ultimately, these lines will continue to blur, creating the need for seamless, unified collaboration platforms that can manage audio, video, content and even asynchronous communication such as instant messaging and social business platforms for easy online meetings. Until then, however, both web and video conferencing will continue to play vital roles in keeping today’s businesses connected and collaborative.