Dimdim: A Clear Future for Multimedia Web Conferencing for the Masses

One sign that Xconomy is in the right business is that there are many more companies building innovative products in our home cities than we have time to cover. Unfortunately, though, our decisions about which companies to cover sometimes come down to little more than intuitive guesses. Back in December 2007, I interviewed the founders of Dimdim, a Methuen, MA-based startup with an open-source Web conferencing technology that provides a low-priced alternative to Cisco’s WebEx, Citrix’s GoToMeeting, and Microsoft’s Live Meeting. But I never wrote up a story about DimDim, because it just didn’t seem to me that the company had much chance of surviving in a market dominated by such deep-pocketed competitors.

To be honest, I was also influenced by a tale told to me around the same time by Christopher Herot, co-founder and former chief technology officer at Convoq, aka Zingdom. The Lexington, MA-based WebEx competitor had failed ignominiously after collecting $30 million in venture capital.

Well, 15 months later, Dimdim is not only surviving but by all indications thriving. I was clearly wrong in my assessment; whatever problems had hamstrung Convoq weren’t weighing down Dimdim. So when I heard that the company would be coming out with a new and improved version of its software soon, I decided to try to make up for my misjudgment by inviting Dimdim CEO and founder and DD Ganguly and chief marketing officer Steve Chazin to visit Xconomy again. They graciously accepted.

Ganguly and Chazin walked me through Dimdim’s basic features, which include everything you’d expect from a Web conferencing system, such as document sharing, whiteboarding, screen sharing, chat windows, and Webcam and audio connections for multiple meeting participants. It all worked so seamlessly that I had to keep reminding myself that it was completely browser-based—with no need to download annoying desktop software or browser plugins, the way you must before joining a WebEx meeting, for example. (The one exception: screen sharing requires a small plugin, since a browser can’t by itself take over a computer’s entire screen.)

The DimDIm 4.5 interfaceGanguly and Chazin also filled me in on Dimdim’s progress over the past year, which includes some pretty impressive uptake statistics—the company now has 2 million users, who spend about a million minutes in Dimdim meetings each week. Large communities such as developers of the open-source Drupal publishing system and the open-source Moodle learning management system are using the platform for their design and planning meetings. And some big companies—like an unnamed but prominent national tax preparer—have incorporated components of Dimdim’s system, such as the chat and document-sharing systems, into their own websites.

Next week, Dimdim is expected to introduce the 5.0 version of its system, which will include a slew of upgrades. (I got a look at some of them during Ganguly and Chazin’s visit, but promised I wouldn’t write about them until they’re finalized.) In anticipation of the rollout, I asked Ganguly and Chazin about the founding ideas behind Dimdim and the role the application is playing inside organizations both small and large.

Xconomy: Thanks for coming back in, and giving me another chance to write about Dimdim.

DD Ganguly: We actually wanted to thank you, because after you told us about Convoq we spoke with Chris Herot. They hadn’t put a lot of focus on a free version of their product, so distribution and the cost of customer acquisition became a very big problem for them. Partly because of your suggestion, I really started focusing on the free part of Dimdim. And if you look at the usage numbers, that has really helped. We are working with some very large firms today, and getting on the short lists at others, because they are quickly able to try out our software.

X: So let’s start from the beginning. What is the founding philosophy behind Dimdim?

DDG: What’s intensely personal is oftentimes the most universal, and that’s what we experienced with Dimdim. [The founding team] wanted ways to collaborate with each other. We had documents we were creating, prototypes that we wanted to show to each other, and each of these requirements led to certain kinds of features [in a Web conferencing system]. But there was nothing available that was easy to use and free. So we saw a bigger need for this. We sent out exactly 14 e-mails to people who had shown some interest in open-source Web conferencing, and we asked, “What is your interest on a scale of 1 to 10,” and they came back with numbers ranging from 8 to 100. We said “That’s enough market research for us!”

X: Why are customers attracted to Dimdim, when so many alternatives are available?

DDG: As we have made progress, what we are seeing is that customers are coming to us for three reasons: ease of use, open source and open APIs [application programming interfaces, the tools programmers use to make software systems talk to each other], and affordability. What has been very interesting is that when we went out to talk to customers, I thought they would talk about affordability first, openness second, and ease of use last. And consistently, they come back in exactly the reverse order. Ease of use is far more … Next Page »

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