Videoconferencing Tips: Travel Less in 2009

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As a mobile professional, travel is essential to your job. But it doesn't actually help you do your job, does it? In fact, travel actually gets in the way of being productive. Or it makes you so tired and stressed, you're barely able to show up to a meeting, let alone contribute brilliant ideas.

For the next three weeks, I'll suggest some New Year's resolutions for you to consider. The idea behind each resolution is to make your life a little more comfortable and less stressful in 2009. This week: Use communications tools to reduce travel, stay connected to colleagues, and increase the power of your messages. Next week: how to be kinder to your poor body with a proper ergonomic setup. And finally, services and tools for syncing your data across multiple computers and devices.

Resolve to Videoconference Instead of Travel

Remember how the CEOs at the big three automakers flew to Washington in private jets to ask for a bailout? Well, after being brought back to Earth by a barrage of deserved "what-were-they-thinking?" outrage, the big boys decided to give up their private jets. And PR reps at the big three subsequently announced that whenever possible, employees at those companies would videoconference instead of travel.

Now they get it.

Videoconferencing can be a practical alternative to business travel. It's "green," it saves you time and stress, and it saves your company money. Videoconferencing works best when it's with people you already know, such as your colleagues or long-time clients and partners.

When is videoconferencing not a good idea? I wouldn't use it for the first few meetings with important new partners or clients. In that circumstance, there's nothing better than actual face time.

The best inexpensive consumer-level Webcams, such as the Logitech QuickCam Pro for Notebooks ($63 and up), and QuickCam Orbit AF Webcam ($90 and up), do a good job of capturing video and audio. And many video chat services for small businesses such as ooVoo and SightSpeed offer free (as well as paid) memberships. So whenever possible, stay home and videoconference instead.

Resolve to Communicate Creatively

People who spend a lot of time on the road have a particular challenge: How to stay in the loop and not become a bottleneck?

Videoconferencing is just one high-tech way to communicate these days. There are lots of tools you can use, either for free or a small monthly fee, to stay in touch with multiple people at one time, or to get your message out with a little extra oomph. Here are four online services to consider:

Yammer is a microblogging service like Twitter, but for businesses. You can send quick, short messages to colleagues, offering updates, advice, and opinions on business-related matters. The service is free; companies can pay $1 per user per month for access to optional administration tools, security features, and such.

Phonevite is a Web-based service for sending voice mails to multiple people at a time. The service is free or 5 cents per call, which eliminates ads from your message and gives you other perks. For instance, the premium service lets you send your message to an unlimited number of people, while the free service limits you to 25.

Goldmail lets you create presentations with pictures, text, and audio. Your presentations, which you create in a Windows-only downloadable application, live on Goldmail's site, and recipients receive a link to your presentation in an e-mail. The service costs $10 to $150 per year.

Eyejot is a cool service that lets you create a video message using your computer's Webcam. The message is stored on Eyejot servers. As with Goldmail, recipients receive a link to your video message in an e-mail. The free version limits you to 1-minute messages. You can pay $30 annually for messages as long as 5 minutes, plus other benefits.

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Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips

Hotspot in Your Pocket: Novatel Wireless's MiFi is a line of mobile devices that let you generate a wireless hotspot on a high-speed mobile broadband network, such as those from Sprint and Verizon Wireless. The potential advantages: You don't need to install any special software, as you do in order to use a cellular data modem, and you can connect multiple laptops or wireless gadgets at the same time. MiFi will be available in early 2009 from wireless carriers, who will determine pricing.

Add To-Do Items to Gmail: Google recently added a new feature, Tasks, to its Gmail e-mail application. It's a to-do list manager that enables you to easily turn e-mail messages into action items (isn't that what many e-mails are anyway, but in disguise?) You can create multiple to-do lists, too.

Convert Videos for iPods and iPhones: Videora Converter can convert just about any video file into iPod/iPhone-friendly H.264 or MPEG-4 files. The new 4.04 version of the software is better than ever but could be a little user-friendlier. Follow our step-by-step instructions (in four steps) to convert your video files.

Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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