The end of free?


The new decade has only just started and already we’re seeing significant changes in the virtual meeting/classroom market.


First of all Yugma changed their terms and conditions to reduce the service offered on their free accounts. Previously the free account allowed you to host unlimited meetings for up to 20 people, albeit without some of the features of the paid for version. Now you get access to all of the features of the paid version, but meetings are limited to three participants and 15 minutes.

In effect, the free version has been replaced by a limited trial.

I’m not sure of the logic in this move when the Webex Meet and Elluminate vRoom services currently offer much more for free.


This morning I received and email from DimDim to announce that the company has been taken over by They are no longer accepting new registrations, although existing accounts will remain active until they expire. DimDim as a service will no longer exist as Salesforce made the acquisition to add real time collaboration features to their Chatter platform.

DimDim was unique in offering an open source version of their software, which will remain available on Sourceforge, although Salesforce have already stated that they will no longer be contributing to its development. The code available is very out of date, and only time will tell if there is enough interest in the open source version for it to survive.

The end of free?

It doesn’t surprise me to see this happening, as there are so few companies that seem able to make a commercial success of free B2B services. The likes of Google can only offer so many free consumer services because the data it produces feeds the commercial services they offer.

As already mentioned, there are still some free services still available, but there’s no guarantee they’ll remain that way. Webex Meet is described as ‘free while in beta’ which gives them scope to charge as soon as that beta is over, should they so wish. Elluminate’s vRooms are part of the free LearnCentral offer, which is described as ‘sponsored by Elluminate'; will they continue that sponsorship indefinitely?. On the plus side, it has seen continued development since the merger with BlackBoard.

What do you think? Will 2011 see a continued shift away from free services? Did you rely on these services, and if so what effect has it had on you?

About Barry Sampson

Barry Sampson has written 38 post in this blog.

Barry has a diverse background, having been a retail manager before moving into HR and then on to training and development. He spent time as a trainer and training manager before a move into learning technology in 2003. He's championed the adoption emerging tools for learning as a complement to traditional approaches.

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  1. says

    I think we’ve been seeing this happen gradually over the past year or so in several areas, not just online meetings. Simply free SaaS models seem to be disappearing and open source (including hosted options) seems to be the way forward. There is still an open source online classroom alternative in

  2. says

    You’re right of course that this isn’t limited to online meetings, but this market does seem to have been quite settled for the last three or four years. The hosted open source option certainly seems to be taking off in some areas, VLE/LMS in particular, but I don’t see any credible option for medium to large enterprise clients at the moment.

    I’ve been watching Big Blue Button with interest, and it looks like it has real potential.

  3. says

    we’ve all been very lucky to get so much ‘free’ software for such a long time. For those of involved in software/internet/technology we know that there is nothing such as ‘free’ and the services need to be covered by a financial model many of which we are starting to see. Last night I catched a report on Sky News on anti-virus software that it was too expensive. Software models will continual to evolve, the cycle is typically around 18-24 months. I’m amazed by the amount of free, high quality software that is available. The flip-side is that is has skewed the development market as people find if even harder to see the value in development costs during the proposal process if they can get something for free of 99p on the istore!

  4. says

    Your comment about the iStore is interesting. Apple launched the Mac App Store yesterday, and one of the most noticeable things is the pricing model that many of the developers are adopting. Take for example Courier (an app for uploading files onto services like Flickr and YouTube), which was previously sold for $24.99 but on the app store is $4.99! I think many developers are embracing the idea of high volume/low price, which with my background in retail I can fully appreciate; I think this is the online equivalent of “pile it high, price it low”.

    Of course, the difference between this type of software purchase and the online meeting vendors is developing and maintaining the infrastructure. To support a low price/high volume offer would need considerable investment to deliver a reasonable service level.

  5. says

    It is easier to take a punt on releasing a game/app as you have a route to market and you can remove all of these costs that you previously had to cover. 10 years when trying to get ‘product’ into shops was 50% of the cost and time. From a developer perspective you can keep trying until you come across the app that makes you successful. Very interesting. e-learning may well be next…

  6. says

    Hi Barry,

    it is true that my post needs an update!

    Actually there are a lot of free and open source online classroom alternatives. However, I will also vote BigBlueButton!

    Have a wonderful day,
    Christopher Pappas

  7. says

    “Free” also conceals deteriorating labor conditions, as individuals will (or must) work for free or unlivable wages. The global increase in contingency workers (with no healthcare or social benefits in the US) has long range, and broad societal implications. It’s a newly exploitable working class. It’s distributed and hidden, which means no organizing for better conditions, no consciousness raising possibilites for consumers.

  8. Paul Smart says

    I’m talking to synergy learning about combined Moodle and big blue button hosting. Not exactly free but shows what opensource can do. There is no other paid service under 6 figures which can match it.

  9. Emilie says

    Our organization previously used DimDim, and are
    now looking to go with a different software purchase, one that will
    support e-learning, internal conference meetings, and archived
    webinars. Does anyone know of a comparative chart that we could
    look at? Our current contenders are GoToWebinar and Elluminate
    (mainly because we have individual people within our group who have
    positive experiences being a participant with those two

  10. says

    No posts here since early 2011, so timely to add my experiences over the past year.
    1. Adobe Connect – experienced this product at the user end and found it very slick. Price point more suited to corporate/government and ROI may be a struggle for educational setting. There were some murmurings that Adobe would discontinue it’s marketing/development but this doesn’t appear to be the case.
    2. Blackboard has acquired Elluminate and renamed the product Blackboard Collaborate. Free Vroom accounts (up to 3 attendees) have been discontinued but free vRoom accounts can be recreated by starting a 30-day 25 seat trial. At the end of the trial, you’ll be automatically transitioned to a 3-person vRoom. The latest version of this product is a significant improvement and seems to have borrowed from Adobe Connects interface and colour scheming somewhat. In good news for LMS users (Moodle, etc), Blackboard has announced that will continue support for plugins which enable intergration with LMSs other than their own. Phew!!! Certainly a good product and enjoyed using it at both the user and administrative end.
    3. GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar: Great corporate product for business meetings and lecture style presentations. I’ve had experience with this user and admin end. Admin end could be much better and simpler. The UI is far too confusing for it’s lack of functionalilty (no whiteboard, etc). Integration with Outlook is a bonus for Microsoft users and businesses. Functions around setting up meetings is pretty seamless and well thought out. You won’t get a better result for the quality of output of presentation/application sharing at the user end. Audio output is also a plus. Price point more suited to corporate.
    4. GVOConference – haven’t trialled this one yet, but it struck me as an affordable corporate solution. Under $10 a month (please post here if you have tried it)
    5. BigBlueButton – In relation to the original article, this is truly where the excitement is. I have tried this product at both user and admin end, and BigBlueButton is certainly the “new kid on the block”. Pluses: Clean and simple web browser interface; “idiot proof’ simple” to start, host and participate in meetings; a truly open source project which is future proofed against corporate acquisition; comprehensive installation instructions for your tech team to get it right first time; desktop/presentation sharing which rivals the COTS products; integration modules already built for LMSs (definitely Moodle, and I think Sakai). Still at beta stage (0.8) but, excuse the pun, stable enough to ‘push the button’ on right now.

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