Blackboard collaborate

I’ve just been working on a site that integrates with Blackboard Collaborate. I just thought I would say something about it here as when I looked for information from a developers point of view there wasn’t a lot online.

What Blackboard Collaborate is

Its a conferencing solution where you can voice/video chat and share desktop and a white board divide members of a meeting into rooms and have sub meetings etc. So like a conferencing solution. Its probably easiest to actually try it out rather than me describe it. They have a testing/configuration room here.

If you interested you can sign up for a demo via their site that gives you your own room you can play with and invite delegates to.

The Good

  • You get a video and voice sharing sessions that aren’t affected by web browsers. Its all written in Java and you launch via a java web start file. So in theory you shouldn’t have to install software on anyones machine.
  • Its ment to be quite undemanding on the specification of client machines and the quality of the internet connection.
  • You can be hosted on their servers so you don’t have to deal with hosting software on your own machines.
  • They have an api so you can set up sessions remotely and add attendees and moderators leaders. And give each attendee a url to login directly with no passwords/usernames.
  • Because they have an API you should be able to integrate with it via your programming language of choice as long as you can use SOAP. I guess in theory it would be easiest to use Java, but I used PHP and it was fine.
  • You do get a contact who you can ask questions directly.

The Bad

  • Cost – I’m not sure how much exactly (the client is paying but they said a lot) on the other hand Adobe Connect is more.
  • Location – their servers seem to be based in North America so it can be slower if your outside of the US. Seems most of their clients are based in North and South America but that might just be my perception. That can make there maintenance times our UK morning and their people start work our lunch time.
  • If you search online there isn’t a great deal of experience online dealing with their API. On the other hand they do provide you with good pdf documentation of the API and requests once you have signed up.
  • It uses java and downloading the java web start file can confuse people its not a massively common file type. The thing is to always open/run the ‘meeting.jnlp’ file.

Notes for other developers

These are some of the things that threw me a little.

  • You want to be using a 64bit OS to develop on as they specify session start times with a specifity that goes beyond what you can achieve on 32bit. If you use a 32bit OS all your session start times appear in the past to their server as they get truncated.
  • The information they give you to login to the web control interface is different from that which you need to use to access the API.
  • The .wsdl file isn’t available at all on the live server. On their test server it is. When they say to cache the wsdl file they don’t mean temporarily. Grab it from their test server and then use that local copy permanantly.
  • In their web interface you need to have java enabled in your browser or you end up with some blank admin webpages. Which was a bit confusing until I viewed source.

The alternatives

I don’t know a lot about the alternatives my client only investigated Adobe Connect and Blackboard Collaborate. I’d be interested if anybody does know of an alternative. It seems that Elluminate which got taken over by blackboard and became blackboard collaborate had fans.