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Un-Complicating Conference Calls: UberConference

Are you the Lurker? Or the Late Joiner, the Bad Connection or the Anti-Mute?


Which conference call character are you?

The Late Joiner consistently dials into the call at least 10 minutes after everyone else, interrupting the conversation to say he’s there, and explaining why he’s late. The Lurker hangs out on the call in silence, waits until the end to speak up, and surprises everyone who didn’t know she was there. The Bad Connection is reliably in a tunnel, elevator or subway whenever he is asked for his opinion on an issue. And the Anti-Mute thinks no one can hear her clicking keyboard as she types inches away from her un-muted phone.

While you may be incapable of fixing these people’s idiosyncratic behavior, there’s an alternative conference-call service that could make your group calls more manageable — and maybe even a little bit enjoyable with things like pleasant hold music. It’s called UberConference.

UberConference is a free service for up to 10 callers, but its best features — like letting everyone (not just the host) dial in without using a PIN — are available with a Pro account, which costs $10 a month.

Since our Re/code offices are spread across the country, in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and New York, conference calls are our most popular method for meeting with one another. When this YouTube video making fun of conference calls came out, all of us simultaneously laughed out loud and cringed — it hit a little too close to home.

Naturally, I used my colleagues as UberConference guinea pigs during calls over the past week.

My favorite thing about UberConference is that it lets you see a visual representation of everyone on the call via its Web page or app. People are represented by tiles with names and images of themselves. This means you won’t have to ask things like, “Is Jessica still on the call, or did she hang up earlier?”

When someone talks on the call, UberConference indicates who is speaking by displaying a small speaker icon on that person’s tile. I found this extremely handy, since our company has several new hires whose voices aren’t familiar to me.

On the downside, some of these representative tiles only show a phone number and a map of a location where that number is associated. For example, our video and graphics editor, Vjeran Pavic, lives in San Francisco but was represented in an UberConference call by his Boston-based 617 area code mobile number. People can also be labeled with the wrong name, like the name of the person who pays the phone bill.

In a really strange case, one of our editors, Elizabeth Crane, was represented as “Patricio Lavin.” I asked her later if she knew that name, and she didn’t. UberConference later explained that Patricio Lavin is the name used to show caller ID for any Skype user (Elizabeth dialed in using Skype) who places outbound calls, but doesn’t have a Skype-in number. They have since fixed this bug to replace Patricio with “Skype Caller.”

To clear things up for everyone, the host of the conference call can correctly label each tile, giving folks like Vjeran and Elizabeth their actual names, so people know who they are.

The visual interface for UberConference also lets people start online chats in a side panel, and it gives you a simple way to share documents — or your whole computer screen — with everyone else.

UberConference gives people various ways to join a call. Sure, the traditional dial-in phone number still works, but you can also click a link to join the call from your desktop computer (through your Web browser), iOS or Android device. That link can be sent to you from the host via email invitation or text, among other options. If you’re one of those people who forgets when calls are starting, a Pro account gives the host the option of getting UberConference to auto-call everyone when the call is starting.

Let’s say you can’t join the conference call at all. The host of the call can tap a button and record the entire call, so you can listen to it at a later time. Or anyone on the call can download a transcript of the chats that took place during the call in a side panel; these might be helpful for catching up on what you missed.

Aside from the $10 monthly fee for rich features, UberConference has a couple other downsides. It limits your file sharing to documents in Google Drive, Dropbox, Box or Evernote. When I tried to share a JPG or PNG file directly from my computer, it didn’t work. UberConference says this is coming in the future, but until then, it should remove the Computer option altogether to avoid confusion.

Another downside is that the host of the UberConference must be using Google Chrome to share his or her computer screen. This isn’t a problem for me, since Chrome is my browser of choice, but it could be a problem for other people.

UberConference hasn’t solved the problem of getting rid of conference calls altogether, but it sure makes them easier to stomach.

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