Spiderphone sounds like the hotline for that imaginary masked superhero. It is, instead, a useful and inexpensive Web-assisted telephone conferencing system that makes it easy to set up and conduct multiple-caller speakerphone meetings.
First off, why is it called Spiderphone? According to their website, conference call engineers refer to each connection to a conference as a “leg.” Spiders have lots of legs and, of course, they are on a web. Silly name aside, Spiderphone is a versatile communication tool.
I originally discovered Spiderphone because I was fed up with the cost and hassle of setting up multiple call-in speakerphone events through the phone company. I tried some Internet-based VoIP conferencing solutions but was unimpressed with the call quality. Spiderphone offered the simplicity, high quality and low cost I was looking for. The bonus was discovering all of the extra features that Spiderphone provides when managing conference calls using the Web.
While the system uses the Internet, the voice part of the telephone conference is conducted over traditional high-quality digital phone lines. This is not an Internet-based VoIP communication system, so it is not susceptible to the variable quality and performance issues that sometimes affect VoIP calling. I also like this service because all the servers, telephone bridge hardware and support services are based in the U.S.
Signup was quick, easy and free. If you have a need for a conference call today, you can be ready to go in five minutes. Creating the account is just like signing up for anything else on the Internet. You enter some basic information, including – of course – a credit card. There is no setup fee. You will then be provided a PIN and a permanent conference code that will be used by all participants whenever they call in for a conference you have set up. After initial signup, initiating a conference call takes no time at all, and you don’t even need a computer at that point. However, there are some advantages to using the computer, which I will discuss later.
The easiest way to proceed is with an on-demand call (no reservation needed), initiated from any phone. You provide your participants with the call time, the dial-in number for the Spiderphone switchboard and the conference code. As moderator, you then dial into the switchboard first and enter your PIN, then simply wait for the others to call in at the appointed time.
Billing for calls is as low as 4.5 cents per minute, per participant. If you choose to offer your attendees a toll-free dial-in number, your cost as moderator increases to 6 cents per minute, per participant. There are also monthly flat rate plans available.
If you prefer, you can set up a reservation for a conference through the Spiderphone website. This has the advantage of allowing you to generate email notifications for all participants that include hotlinks for them to click to connect via telephone to join the conference, as well as to connect via the Web to view additional information during the conference. The system even allows the option for the participant to receive a call to initiate participation in a conference. Alternately, participants can simply dial the phone number and the code provided in the email.
There are several advantages for participants using the Web-assisted interface while talking in the phone conference. First, you can see information displayed about all who are participating in the call. But more importantly, the identity of the specific person talking at any moment during the call is displayed, or more precisely, the line for each call participant is displayed. The system cannot differentiate between two attorneys who are sharing the same speakerphone in an office. This can be very useful during a deposition to quickly identify who is posing an objection, for example. It can also be helpful for sorting things out in situations when there are large numbers of phone-in participants involved.
There are additional interactive features. Electronic documents such as exhibits can be uploaded, downloaded and shared during a call, all from within the Spiderphone Web interface. This means you don’t have to fuss with e-mailing attachments to other participants while in the midst of a call. You can even upload and share PowerPoint presentations and audio and video clips. You can also send individual, private text messages to other participants during a call. This could be useful for attorneys to communicate with their paralegals about questions during a deposition, for example.
The audio from a call can be recorded and shared. As moderator, you can set up for automatic recording when making a conference reservation or you can choose to start recording at any time during a conference by simply clicking the “record” button. The system will automatically insert a “record” notification announcement. The recordings can then be downloaded by participants after the meeting, if you choose to allow it. Be aware, there is an additional fee for recording.
Spiderphone offers many other features and services that are worth exploring. You can learn more about them at www.spiderphone.com, or at their newer website: www.conferencecallcenter.com. There you will also find an offer for a 20-minute free-trial conference call.•
Stephen Bour ([email protected]) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.