Conference Calling Services: Radio Stations 2.0?

It just occurred to me: all of these conference calling services are a nanometer away from reinventing the way call-in radio shows are done.

There are hundreds (if not thousands) of services that will allow you to hold conference calls – some are free, some aren’t. Some are better suited for private calls, some aren’t. There’s a conference calling solution for everybody. Well, almost everybody.

When we started to do our show a few years ago, we tried just about everything to set up an elegant queue process for callers and their questions. One of our listeners suggested Asterisk as a solution (thanks, Tom). We fiddled with it for a little while and found VoIP to be more of a hassle than a help. All the while, conference call gurus were giving Skype a run for its money – with the Gizmo Project having just launched its first version (with built-in recording).

Jake and I wound up investing in hearty hardware and dedicated phone lines (read: land lines). It was the easiest solution, and the audio quality was unarguably outstanding. Still, the software was kludgey – despite being locally browser-based. I moved, and haven’t really set up the phone lines again because… well… it was all a pain in the ass, and I’m really not hip on paying Qwest any more money every month than I must (right now, I’m only paying them to keep 1.888.PIRILLO alive – even though its redirecting to a virtual Vonage box).

Those of us seeking solutions were left to become software chefs and mini-masters of workflow hacks. Why can’t conference calling just do what we need it to do!? Granted, everybody wants something different from conference calling… and I think Gaboogie may just win my attention (much like Ustream has for live video streaming. Let me explain why.

Last night, we did a little conference calling experiment. They assigned me a conference ID to share with the world, then asked me to instruct the callers to press 9 to “raise their hands.” When these callers indicated that they wanted to talk, Erik (from Gaboogie) took them into a private conversation to find out what they wanted to know.

Now, imagine this scenario:

  1. Producer gets his/her own number and/or conference ID, designates “live” time (if not always live). Live audio stream URL is also given to be shared.
  2. Producer installs a desktop widget to a virtual switchboard, or can access the same information on the Web – displaying information about the call, callers, caller status, etc.
  3. Producer may assign “ops” to field caller questions and input them into a simple text form – which can be visible from the universally-accessible (always on?) switchboard. Caller is qualified, simple answers established, etc. Meanwhile, a separate live audio stream is there for those in the “waiting room” – a backchannel that’s just as audible as the live audio stream, where the callers can talk with one another!
  4. Producer brings any caller live, immediately switching an audio recording mechanism. When the call is completed, the MP3 is saved, tagged with relevant (recurring) information, populated with caller details, then put in a queue for further description (read: show notes).
  5. Producer and/or “ops” finish the details for the call, then publish the MP3 through Blip.TV after pre-roll and/or post-roll audio (and, from there, to every place Blip sneezes to – including someone’s own podcast feed).
  6. Producer has option to assemble a series of calls (of like tags, or within a certain date) to a separate MP3 “digest” – to be published to either the same feed or another one.

Boom. Evolutionarily revolutionary. Conference calling is about to get VERY hot…