Conference Calls Get a Makeover

When Gaboogie founders Dan Gibbons and Erik Lagerway pinged me a while back about their new conference call service, my first question was, “Why?” Googling “conference call service” returned 98,900,000 hits. Does the world really need another conference call service?

Turns out that it does.

Conference calling is a $2 billion business in North America alone. But it’s not perceived to be a sexy space, acknowledges Gibbons. “It’s an industry dominated by large old school telecom providers. Attending and booking conference calls is a painfully archaic process. A lot of people have focused on Web conferencing rather than audio conferencing. WebEx has a conference call component, but hasn’t focused on audio.”

Which is why Gaboogie, which launched this week, aims to bring some next generation smarts to conference calls.

“One of the most frustrating things is dialing into a conference bridge with a password,” Gibbons says. “Thirty percent of conference calls include someone calling from cell phones. They don’t have access to the dial-in number or the password. So you end up waiting 10 or 15 minutes for the call to begin.”

Gaboogie starts with a beautifully simple “why didn’t I think of that” solution to this problem: the service calls you. No password is needed because if you’re not supposed to be there, you don’t get called.

Participants simply press ‘1’ to join, ‘2’ to decline, and ‘3’ for ‘later.’ The service makes the adjustments for time zones, too. And if you get disconnected, the number is on your caller ID to redial.

Gaboogie’s Web deployment opens up a boatload of new possibilities for conference calling. And there’s no client to download, keeping it simple for everyone.

Calls are setup through the website and it’s easy to check the schedule online. Moderators have a dashboard to monitor calls in progress. You can set participation in a call to “lecture” which lets you simply listen. Calls can be recorded and shared as RSS feeds or MP3 files, all with a single click. Attendees can be added on the fly by simply dragging them from the phonebook.

As valuable as Gaboogie’s service is, Gibbons and Lagerway aren’t stopping there. A software developers’ kit is in the works to help other applications incorporate conference calling. “It’s a really important piece of the puzzle,” says Gibbons. “Gaboogie is built to be an extensible platform and make it easy to integrate with applications like calendaring and scheduling down the road.”

And of course, Web conferencing. “There’s a huge opportunity to build a standards-based Web conferencing tool,” Gibbons says, noting that integration with a Web conferencing application like Munich-based teamslide would be a “logical next step.”

What Gaboogie is not is a free conferencing calling service, although every new account includes 100 free minutes so effectively you can try it for free. Calls are pre-paid and the company offers plans that start at $30 for 250 minutes and have toll-free dial-in. The service currently supports calling in 75 countries.

“A lot of [conference call] marketing is focused on cheap minutes,” says Gibbons. “Our focus is on people who want a better calling experience.”