Webex Still Doesnt Understand Video

It’s been more than an hour since my last rant about Webex product design, so we are overdue.

Today I moderated a client webinar that featured no screen sharing or document upload… It was just a simple panel discussion with several people exploring a topic. The only thing for attendees to focus on were the members of the panel.

In addition to the featured panelists, I was in the conference taking care of technical matters and we had three business stakeholders who wanted to be available to prioritize audience questions, communicate with the panelists behind the scenes, and supply links or resources in the chat if called for.

I recorded the session to the Webex account in the cloud and when I went back to take a look at the recording, here is what I saw (I blurred the display names in this post for confidentiality purposes).

Webex grid view in cloud recording

The grid view is perfect… That’s how I had the layout setting on my host computer. But I also had suppressed display of non-video participants for myself. Those are the grey squares you see here with initials and names of the behind-the-scenes stakeholders.

No problem… I know that Webex offers the ability to display or suppress various components of a recorded session by using the recording options editor. I went to that menu and looked for the option to hide non-video participants:

Webex recording options

No luck. While I can hide Chat, Q&A, Polls, and the Participant List, I can’t get rid of those empty gray squares. They take up space, distract, look ugly, and call attention to the names of people who should be hidden to the attendees.

Fortunately I was logged in on a second computer as an attendee and used Camtasia to capture the attendee view as a backup recording:

Webex grid view for attendee

Now there are a few interesting things to note here as well:

1) I’m missing two of the active presenters. Why do I see six camera feeds in the cloud recording, but only four on the local attendee computer? Does Webex only show a square grid, so you see four or nine people, but nothing in between? I’m honestly not sure, and would welcome your comment. It seems like a strange limitation, and doesn’t match the following picture I lifted off the internet with what looks like a Webex instructional image showing a grid view with five video feeds:

Webex layout options menu

2) In the Webex stock photo, do you see the “Layout” button at top right which offers the displayed menu for options? Where is it on my attendee view? It turns out that the button is invisible until you click your mouse in the content display area. It’s awfully tricky to instruct attendees on what they should click in order to adjust their display preferences when the thing they are supposed to click is invisible! I might give some instruction early on, but anybody who joins late has no idea the option even exists.

3) As a host, I have no control over the default way that my content should be displayed to my audience. I can’t force it to grid view for everyone, I can’t choose to show or hide panelist names, and I can’t hide non-video participants. That last one is the most egregious… What design manager decided that the default in a meeting should be to show empty placeholders for people who are not using their camera? Maybe there are cases when that’s desirable, but should it be the default mode? If you want attendees to see the names of everyone in the meeting, show them the Participant List… It’s already an existing feature. I found a thread on the Webex community forum site with more than 260 votes from customers asking to change this behavior.

Look, I’m familiar with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In any closed system, entropy tends to increase, leading to a maximal state of disorder. I just wish the Webex software engineers would stop trying so hard to force the issue.

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