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Webcasts and webinars: What’s the difference?

webcasts webinarsWebcasts, webinars, webisodes, web, web, web! Sometimes it seems like people just throw the word “web” in front of other words. It’s as if that will help us understand what they are, but often it just muddies the water. Did you know that blog started out as weblog, or web-log? Thankfully we didn’t end up with wog, or weg, or welog. It’s one case where the ‘web’ part was dropped for the most part.  Thankfully.

Two of the most popular web-terms are webcast and webinar. Both are ways to communicate to large audiences using audio and/or video. But that’s where the similarities pretty much end.

Webinar is the combination of the words web and seminar. And that is what it is: a seminar conducted over the web. The format is usually one or more “presenters” and many attendees. There could be a handful of attendees or thousands. A webinar also provides some way to interact with the presenters. Services like GoToMeeting let you send chat messages or also to “raise your hand” by clicking on a button. That way a presenter can say “by a show of hands, how many of you have …” just like in real life.

Webcast on the other hand, is a combination of the words web and broadcast. So it is most closely related to a TV broadcast in concept and name. A single source transmits content out to many people. It’s a one way communication, as the viewers have no mechanism to comment, reply or interact with the source. Depending where you look, a webcast is defined to be a live transmission, or potentially both live and on demand. To me, because TV is both live and pre-recorded, webcasts can be either too.

Choosing when to use a webinar or webcast is fairly simple. If you need the audience to interact, then choose a webinar. If you don’t, then either will work, but a webcast usually makes more sense. For example many webcasts are just regular broadcast programming simulcast on the web at the same time, or on demand at a later date. But they can also be university lectures or corporate meetings broadcast to students or employees.

And there you have it, the differences between webcasts and webinars.

Oliver Burt

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