Did you know that when Microsoft originally named LiveMeeting that LiveMeeting.com was a porn site? Oops.
LiveMeeting is officially “end of life” as of December 31, 2017. In the world of conferencing and webinars, it’s like the official passing of a generation. (If YOU have any particular memories, please do share in comments!)
Because EventBuilder has deep historical ties in this industry and to LiveMeeting, we thought it might be amusing – if not enlightening – to recount some memories gathered along the way, shared in the form of (entirely useless) factoids or bits of proverbial wisdom (in no particular order).
LiveMeeting was birthed when Microsoft acquired Placeware for $200M.
PlaceWare had about $50M in revenue at the time, but MSFT’s own estimate at the time was that if they saved one in five trips of their annual $1B travel budget, Placeware would pay for itself in a year. EventBuilder’s relationship to LiveMeeting, however, goes back to pre-Placeware roots…interesting because it sheds light on why we think the way we do.
Factoid: Portland, Oregon was the birthplace of virtual event services.
It started with EnvoyGlobal. We (I, Roger, started there in 1999) built the very first registration system for web conferencing. While it’s crazy to imagine it now, back then no conferencing platforms had registration. We initially built registration pages one at a time and pushed out confirmation and reminder emails manually. “RCR” (register, confirm, remind) was a $1500 service (yes, just for the registration page). Add to this the project management, presenter training, moderator talent, and other elements that constitute what we know of as a webinar, and “event production” was born.
Platforms come, platforms go — en route to becoming LiveMeeting.
EnvoyGlobal hosted four different technologies back then.
- NetPodium had streaming and scale, but latency was horrible.
- Contigo had a super-light footprint, which was useful in a world where we still were lucky if people had a 56K modem. (Side note, Contigo was acquired by Vstream, a public company who changed their name to Evoke only to lose trademark battle and having to change it again….duh! Raindance was born and was later acquired by Intercall).
- DataBeam (previously FarSite) was purchased by Lotus and later became IBM SameTime.
- And PlaceWare, who had the benefit of being seriously stable and scalable. This quickly became EnvoyGlobal’s primary platform, and Envoy became one of PlaceWare’s biggest customers.
It was a wild time when disparity between platforms was huge. We remember when Presidia was purchased by Macromedia (one of our customers at the time), and we ran events for them on “Breeze” (yes, later Adobe Breeze, the predecessor to Connect). Whether by acquisition or by other deathly turns of events, a host of different technologies came and went including, interestingly enough, one at webinar.com (which was bought/sold several times, ultimately ending up in the hands of the ExpertCity->GoToX->LogMeIn folks.
At this point, of course, Envoy had the only registration platform going, and PlaceWare scooped us up, making us “PlaceWare Event Services Division” (which, indeed, because LiveMeeting’s ESD).
Factoid: EventBuilder was birthed out of what PlaceWare didn’t want.
The year was 2000, and PlaceWare wanted the registration platform and pro services, but at the time thought they didn’t want to be in the audio business. Thus the audio conferencing business got left behind, got renamed Encounter Collaborative, and adding back web and video conferencing – and pro services — back into the mix. This is when Lauren, Renee, and Robin entered the picture.
Back then, EventBuilder was Encounter Collaborative’s registration platform that worked with multiple platforms including LiveMeeting-then-Lync. Now, of course, our Gateway hosts a plethora of features for moderation and production and hosting and metrics, but it all started around LiveMeeting.
Oops: LiveMeeting couldn’t get out of its own way.
There were so many good people working on so many good things…but LiveMeeting never quite made the mark it could have, and more nimble orgs gobbled up mindshare. Along the way it also became clear that some aspects of the conferencing market (e.g., virtual events and pro services) were going to be sacrificed for the bigger opportunity of meetings and collaboration. While not wrong, this led to a few MSFT-expats (myself included) to get some angel funding and start Corvent (which we later sold to Intercall/West). To be fair, MSFT did have to look at opportunities with many more zeros attached than the webinar market at that time.
Another side-effect of the MSFTization of LiveMeeting was a gradual pressure to eliminate the event services group (not MSFT’s core biz by any stretch). Interestingly, though, this same talent pool that had begun in Portland, Oregon lived on. Many of them came to work for us at Corvent, and now that group lives on at West as their event services group – still here in Portland. Also here in Portland is the small crew at Virtual Venues, also birthed out of the LiveMeeting events team.
Fast forward: Three EventBuilder strengths owe some homage to LiveMeeting.
Many virtual events organizations bear the curse of looking similar on the surface – “we have smart people who will help your events go flawlessly.” Blah blah blah…that and three bucks will get you a hot beverage at Starbucks. It’s because their story is “us, too!”
EventBuilder, interestingly enough, has three aspects to our organization that literally owe something to the Microsoft LiveMeeting legacy…and we’re rather proud of what this history brings us.
- A complementarian perspective. Obviously, you can hire us to take event and program management off your plate, but there’s more to it than that. Remember, LiveMeeting went on to become Lync and that became Skype for Business and even that looks like it’ll evolve. All along the way, though, we know we’re not the center of the universe, so everything we do is infused with a heart of service. We don’t win on our development budget, beautiful website (#not) or fancy offices (we’re 100% virtual!). What we learned from LiveMeeting was some agile sticktoitiveness that remembers it’s part of, not all of, your success story.
- A “both/and” Microsoft-centricity. We have a technology that extends the functionality of Microsoft products, and it is purpose-built to work with MSFT when most people in the world don’t use “Microsoft” and “webinar leader” in the same sentence. To be fair, Skype for Business isn’t a webinar platform in the traditional sense, and we work with other great technologies, too (i.e., GoToWebinar). We’re a dedicated Microsoft shop and we are committed to figuring out the best combination of pro services and technologies for your program, and that may or may not include other stuff.
- A unique heart for helping presenters/audiences succeed. What do clients really want? Presenters connecting with audiences so that the latter are radically blessed by the value they receive as part of the event they attend. The technology working is table stakes, but it’s not the end goal. Somewhat selfishly, it’s why I (Roger) (re)joined the team after years on my own…so that together we could combine made-for-you resources and pro services in a way that no other event services company has.
The bottom line
LiveMeeting shaped us. For some people it’s an old tool they used once-upon-a-time.
As George Santayana put it, “Those who can’t remember the past are bound to repeat it,” and LiveMeeting had its share of downers. But here at EventBuilder it’s also part of what made us who we are — successes and failures both. In a world full of service agents who simply push a few buttons for you, we appreciate bringing a deeper, fuller perspective to every conversation we have the privilege to be part of. It’s an honor we still get to live out every day.
Fare thee well, LiveMeeting.