Yahoo! Live has potential for quick conferences

Simon Sharwood reviews Yahoo!'s new "Live" video streaming service and finds it imperfect, but compellingly priced for casual conferences.

Most news about Yahoo! right now concerns just who will end up owning the portal, leaving its recent launch of a live conferencing service called "Y!Live" somewhat underexposed since its early February launch.

We've tried the service, however, and there's a lot to like.

Y!Live is a flash-video-powered conferencing service that bills itself as a live alternative to YouTube but which, once experienced, clearly has business applications as a free multi-party videoconferencing tool.

To operate the service, all you need is a Yahoo! account, the appropriate plugins and a microphone and/or webcam. Once you have assembled all of those ingredients, the Flash plugin will ask to access your input devices and borrow a little disk space.

Initiating a conference is as simple as sending someone the URL (live.yahoo.com/username) and then clicking on 'Go Live'. Other participants simply surf into your URL and will be able to see and hear everything you do.

There's none of the white boarding or screen sharing that comes with commercial conferencing tools like WebEx or Citrix Online. We also found sound quality a little patchy, with some echo and delays making natural conversation tricky.

Overall, however, this is an exciting service. Its use of commodity hardware and software keeps costs low which, combined with the non-existent cost of setting up or running a conference adds up to a price that cannot be beat!

That Yahoo! has already published an API to enable mashups and embedded streams from the service only adds to its appeal.

We are concerned, however, that the scanty documentation makes no mention of how many participants can participate in a conference or consume a feed, although we have seen channels with more than 30 simultaneous viewers. Nor is the service's future certain, and not just because of Yahoo!'s precarious corporate position. Launched on February 6th by Yahoo!'s Advanced Products, which the company describes as a "small incubation team at Yahoo!," Y!Live currently has limited capacity and is currently seeking feedback before committing to a more extensive rollout.

The service is, however, very deserving of 30 minutes of your time as you ponder how to make the best use of the web and the free collaboration services it offers.

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