By now, many of us have heard the hoopla surrounding UberConference, which won TechCrunch Disrupt on the basis of its visually oriented conference calling system. Well, today another service is launching that takes a much more stripped-back approach to the trusty conference call.
Built in his spare time by Kevin Laws, a former product vice president at Epinions and the founder of vertical search engine Vast.com, HipDial makes conference calling really simple by assigning you a single phone number that you can use to call into any meeting. Once you have your HipDial number, you don’t have to worry about a PIN – the system just picks up on your caller ID and then displays that through the website. Everyone who is logged into HipDial and is on the call can see when you have joined the meeting. Also, if someone shows up on the call on you’re not on the line yet, you’ll get a text message alerting you to the fact. You can then click through from that message to join the call. There go your excuses for being late.
HipDial also boasts a real-time control panel, which means when people dial in, they show up and drop off without the page having to be refreshed. And just in case, Laws has added an emergency PIN for corporate accounts, in case there are any problems starting the call for whatever reason. He expects this “security blanket” to be used almost never.
Laws hopes HipDial will appeal to the corporate masses. While UberConference comes with impressively rich features – such as letting you check out the details of who else is on the call via an iPhone app – HipDial could be useful to a crowd that is less tech savvy. For example, Laws came up with the idea for HipDial while working with Senators to get the JOBS Act passed. He was frequently frustrated when conference calls failed because of basic errors, such as a PIN code being off by one digit. In that context, a high-tech solution wasn’t realistic. As Laws fairly contends, “The Senator’s not going to jump on Skype.”
Laws feels that no one has been covering the key challenge that most conference calls have – which is essentially that there’s too much mind labor involved. “The main thing about conference calling for us is that people have to think about it, and they shouldn’t,” says Laws. “They should have to not think about it.”
HipDial costs $10 a month, which includes 500 free minutes. Thereafter, it’s 2 cents per minute.
For as long as phone calls continue to be the dominant means by which we connect in long-distance meetings, HipDial offers a simple and scalable solution for the masses. But personally speaking, I’m not sure this is the ultimate conference solution. But neither is UberConference. Having suffered through the inefficiency of many editorial conference calls with the rest of the PandoDaily team, it seems clear to me that a multi-chat video hook-up – much like Google Hangout – can better replicate the immediacy, intimacy, and interactivity of group meetings.
Until we get ubiquitous Internet and total smartphone penetration, however, the humble phone call will have to suffice. In which case, the simplicity of HipDial’s universal conference line seems almost as compelling as UberConference’s bells and whistles.