Webcast solutions vendor ON24 recently added a widget to its webcasting platform that allows attendees of such virtual events to engage in live chat using popular social-media networks — such as Microsoft's Yammer, VMware's Socialcast, and Salesforce's Chatter — to create a richer experience.

"You can create breakout groups around different subject-matter areas," said Tom Masotto, ON24's vice president for product management. "For example, an inside sales group could talk about related issues and best practices. … It's a more collaborative form of communications."

The typical webcast involves audio and a synchronized slide presentation and/or video. And, while there often is opportunity during live events for participants to ask questions, there previously was no opportunity to have a live conversation with like-minded individuals — until now, according to Masotto.

"When I'm watching the webcast, I can use the widget to log into a [social-networking] account that's personalized to me and includes the groups or people that I'm following, and those that are following me," Masotto said.

"So while I'm watching, if there's a particular aspect of the event that I find intriguing, I can post a note in order to get a discussion going."

Such collaboration will make the person more engaged in the webcast and the subject matter that's being communicated, he added. In other words, the widget transforms the event from one that largely is passive to one that is interactive.

Before developing this widget, ON24 created another one that enables group chat. But it had a downside.

"You have to go into the webcast to view the transcript. It's contained inside the webcast — it doesn't live beyond that," Masotto said.

In contrast, with the social-networking widget, the posts not only are seen by the other event participants, they also are contained in the group notes, so the communication can occur beyond the webcast.

"So, people can see that conversation without actually participating in the webcast," Masotto said.

ON24 also announced a second widget, dubbed "Cover Flow," that lets organizations present as many as 30 videos of any length in a carousel-style playlist, according to Masotto.

"Where this comes into play is a webcast that is scheduled but does not have a live presentation associated with it," he said.

Masotto said training is the driving force behind the concept; the idea is for organizations to use the widget to present a collection of short videos that people can sift through to learn exactly what they want to know, without having to sit through a lengthy presentation that mostly contains information that is irrelevant or superfluous. The widget offers a question-and-answer function that allows viewers to ask live questions to be answered by an appropriate support person.

"People are gravitating more and more to short snippets of information, one to three minutes of information," Masotto said.