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SlideShare Rolls Out Social Web Conferencing

Bringing together two widely-used technologies, social media and presentations, SlideShare today is releasing a new service called Zipcast. The Web conferencing service builds on the SlideShare's Web-based presentation-sharing service that boasts a community of over 45 million users a month.

"Web conferencing is very popular, but the tools are stuck in the 1990s. You still have to download a client and they have a lot of features people don't use," Rashmi Sinha, CEO and co-founder of SlideShare, told InternetNews.com.

Among other new features, Sinha showed in a demo how users have the ability to skip ahead or behind to review slides regardless of where the presenter might be. "With other services you feel trapped in the experience. With Zipcast, you feel in control. And your other browser tabs are open so you can do whatever you want," she said.

Sinha said Zipcast, which includes video presentations, is a fast experience that lets users join a meeting in one click. Presenters also can quickly invite users on Twitter and Facebook to join a meeting in real time. SlideShare is automatically making its current vast collection of publicly available presentations Zipcast-ready, which means that users will have the option of drawing on the slides and content in those presentations as part of a Zipcast Web conference or Webinar.

Some SlideShare presentations are privacy-protected, but the bulk are used for marketing purposes and readily available. The company said some 3 billion sides are viewed at SlideShare every month.

Web conferencing for the masses?

While Web conferencing programs typically have a maximum number of people who can join a meeting, SlideShare said Zipcast isn't limiting the number of participants. Cisco's WebEx, for example, charges a flat $49 per month for an unlimited number of meetings with up to 25 participants per meeting.

"Every Zipcast meeting room is a permanent URL and there's no limit to the number of participants. This a real paradigm shift, it's not just another Web conference software program," Sinha said.

SlideShare plans to put the scalability of the service to the test right way, offering an introductory Zipcast meeting at 10 a.m. Pacific time on Wednesday. The Zipcast meeting is free and open for anyone to join here.

Zipcast works with all "modern browsers," including Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome, but not the older Internet Explorer 6.

The naming convention is a simple touch, but one that Sinha said will help make it easier for people to find and participate in Zipcasts. Each new Zipcast meeting room is named this way: "www.slideshare.net/NAME/meeting" with each new "NAME" serving as the unique identifier.

"Another advantage we have is that there is you don't need a lot of planning. You can just decide when you want to invite a few colleagues into a Zipcast and do it," Sinha said. "We expect there to be a whole new type of social activity around these Zipcasts because you can quickly go from 10 to 15 to hundreds of people in a Zipcast in real time."

SlideShare plans to display an activity feed of current public meetings at its home page.

Gartner is bullish on the Web conferencing market. In 2011, the research firm expects Web conferencing software to be offered to 75 percent of corporate users as a standard feature alongside email, presence, calendaring and instant messaging.

The research firm Frost & Sullivan projects the Web conferencing market to grow to $4 billion by 2014.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.