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I am looking for a web-based service (either an existing third-party service, or a system I can set up on my own server) to facilitate real-time roundtable and/or town hall discussions among a voluntary subset of a larger group of people, with the ability to allow people (who may or may not choose to participate in the discussion itself) to post talking points and thoughts in text form ahead of time, and the ability to allow non-participants to review the discussion afterwards.

Use Case

Essentially, I help manage a group of ~300-500 people that participate in yearly events as well as organize various other events throughout the year. For these events, this planning is divided into various specific topics and issues. Currently, planning is accomplished by a very small group of people having an internal conversation. My goal is to provide a platform to open topic discussions to all group members and involve a greater number of people in decision making. Each individual planning topic may have a different subset of group members who is interested in participating. The group is amenable to this idea but we are lacking a platform to support it.

The goal will be to provide the opportunity for offline input prior to a discussion (as group members are not expected to always be available for actual discussion, and also this gives an opportunity to solidify talking points), then have an actual live discussion to resolve that particular topic, then allow others to review said discussion afterwards for informational purposes.

Choice of roundtable vs. town hall style is case-by-case.

Realistically, I expect on the order of 5-20 users to participate in a given live discussion depending on the topic, and 10-50 users to participate in offline pre-meeting discussion.

Required Features

In roughly decreasing order of importance:

  • Need not be free for me but must be free for participants. Budget is... complicated (suffice it to say lower cost will be an easier sell; annually, we operate in 6-digits USD but ideally product is 3-4 digits).
  • Hassle-free participation (no complex registration requirements). If registration is required, a tie-in to Facebook/Google/etc. logins would be ideal.
  • Live face-to-face voice / webcam based discussion.
  • Ability to post talking points and thoughts offline prior to discussion, open to any. Moderated, ideally.
  • Ability to record and review live discussion.
  • Ability for a coordinator to mute others and give an arbitrary user the floor if necessary during live conversation.
  • Ability to lock offline discussion read-only after meeting has ended.
  • Ability to schedule meeting; perhaps with iCal, etc. export.
  • Bonus feature: Mobile interface for offline pre-discussion and live discussion.
  • Bonus feature (not required at all): Participate in live meeting audio-only, conference call style, by call-in number, although participants using the video-based system should be able to visualize who is speaking.

Operating system is a non-issue. The service can either be an existing hosted service, or a service that I can set up on my own server using whatever platform is necessary.

Patching together independent solutions (such as a traditional forum with, say, Google Hangouts) has proved unsuccessful in the past for various reasons, a fully integrated system with a single point of access is ideal; low entry barrier for participants is critical.

  • It doesn't meet your requirement of being a web-app, but still worth mentioning: NetViewer – Tymric Jun 10 '15 at 17:47
2

The company that I work for uses Cisco Webex conferencing for pretty much this sort of thing:

  • you can video conference with up to 7 peoples faces on screen at a time
  • depending on the plan up to 100 participants
  • dial in for voice only access
  • presenter can mute individuals or everybody
  • you can record sessions for later playback
  • you can also share your desktop with participants
  • I would be very surprised if your other points were covered as well.

Current pricing for conferencing:

PREMIUM 8 Up to 8 people £ 15 / €19* per month £12 / €15 /month annual plan

PREMIUM 25 Up to 25 people £ 30 / €38* per month £24 / €30 /month annual plan

PREMIUM 100 Up to 100 people £ 49 / €69* permonth £39 / €55 /month annual plan

Disclaimer: I use Webex at my work - I do not work for them and there are other companies and services which offer similar facilities.

  • Thanks. This looks like an awesome conferencing platform. I'm looking around the feature set, I do see a ton of great features for during and after a meeting, but not so much in the pre-meeting offline realm. In your experience with Webex, have you discovered any ability to hold offline forum / comment style discussions for a meeting ahead of time without bringing in another piece of software? – Jason C Jun 11 '15 at 18:28
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    What you could do is hold an initial meeting with a limited set of attendees and then open it up to the main attendee list. Meeting Spaces helps with sharing files etc and there is also the Meeting Center CMR service which allows you to have a meeting room, locked for the initial meeting then unlocked for the main. – Steve Barnes Jun 13 '15 at 5:27
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+100

Google's online tools have quite a lot of what you are asking for. Using Google documents, you can add stuff in front of, during or after meetings. You can add moderation, and multiple people can have different access to the documents.

Google calender can be used to schedule meeting with links to the proper documents, and Google Hangout can be used for video/audio conferencing (if I'm not mistaken. Haven't tried that part).

You might need to have some structure when many people are editing within the same documents, but it is doable, and kind of fun to see the document evolve. And Google documents do also have the ability to add comments to sections within the document, and stuff like that.

I'm new on this site so I hope not to break the policy too much, and not affiliated with Google in any way, but the more I read on your post, the more I was thinking that Google does provide the functionality you need.

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