22 Jun

Cisco Webex and Spark Merge As the Big Video Conference Players Try to Catch Slack

    One of the most effective new terms to arise in the digital age is “disruptive.” While once it was a negative word, used to describe something troublesome, something interrupting a steady flow of events, now it’s seen as a positive. Disruptive technology is synonymous with innovation and improvement.

    Really, though, it works best when you consider both meanings. A disruptor offers a better way of doing things, but in doing so it wreaks havoc on those enjoying the status quo. Workplace collaboration app Slack is a disruptor. To several of the world’s leading video conferencing vendors, it is a troublesome one at that.

    Since Slack reinvigorated office communication with its instant messaging and video calling platform, Google and Microsoft have made big changes to their leading video calling brands to stay relevant.

    Now, Cisco Webex and Spark are also undergoing a brand change. Spark is set to disappear altogether, in name at least, and Webex, with its 40 million users, will become something of an add-on under its own banner.

    Confused? Well, that’s what happens when the established players try to adjust to new rules created by a troublesome upstart.

    Cisco Webex and Spark Merge

    Cisco Spark may not actually have been around long enough for anyone to mourn its demise. It was launched a little more than two years ago as a standalone product despite the presence and success of video calling stablemate Webex. Spark was a cloud-based messaging, audio and video conferencing, and presentation app intended as an all-in-one communications hub. It was surrounded by some impressive hardware, including a digital whiteboard called the Spark Board, and a complete system for small huddle spaces called the Spark Room Kit.

    While all that energy was put into making Spark shine, Cisco’s older video calling child, Webex, established itself as one of the most popular video conferencing apps on the market. At its peak, it held a 41% share, more than double its nearest rival, GoToMeeting (18%).

    Then, back in April, Cisco used its Collaboration Summit to announce it was making a change. Webex and Spark would share a name, Spark would be scrubbed from the company ledgers, and Webex would become Webex Meetings.

    Why? To make things simpler.

    It doesn’t seem to have worked.

    Spark Meetings are Dead. Long Live Webex Meetings

    The subheading above is taken directly from Cisco’s own blog. It’s hardly reassuring if you’re a Spark user, or very enlightening if you’re a Webex user–weren’t they already having Webex meetings? In a nutshell, the page says that users were confused because Spark meetings were accessible only from the Spark app, and Webex meetings only from How Cisco Webex and Spark will changethe Webex app. They’ve solved that by making both meetings the same, with the same functions and the same presentation.

    The problem is, there are still two distinct apps accessing this common meeting platform. Spark has been rebranded Webex Teams, and the original Webex will be known as Webex Meetings. The Teams brand will take advantage of a “new type of meeting,” while Webex Meetings will be…a standard video meeting? Yeah, we’re a little confused, too.

    It has been suggested that, in practice, Teams is the new headline product, the new rival to Slack with its all-in-one messaging and huddle room design. Meetings, on the other hand, will merely provide the video calling platform–which creates little incentive to remain a Webex Meetings member, seeing as you’d get exactly the same video experience as with Teams but without the Teams extras… which may be the point.

    In effect, this looks a little like Cisco is just trying to apply the more established Webex brand to its preferred Spark app. If that’s true, it’s a muddied way of retracing the Spark steps. But we’ve seen more confusing rebranding undertaken by big video players in search of a Slack antidote.

    Google and Microsoft Forge New Identities

    Google has spent recent years tying itself in knots trying to distill its video conferencing offerings into a coherent order. After cycling through a seemingly endless parade of names and functions, it has finally settled on a three-pronged attack: Hangouts Meet, for professional video calls; Hangouts Chat, for Slack-style instant messaging and file sharing; and Google Duo, a social caller for one-on-one conversations. It seems to have followed the same path Cisco did in order to introduce a new product without losing a major brand name. Splitting Hangouts into two offerings is no more eloquent than hiding Spark under the Webex banner.

    If you want to see how a bold transition to a new service is made, you need to look to Microsoft.

    The giant is so convinced that Slack-style collaboration hubs are the future it is killing off its flagship Skype for Business brand altogether and going all in with the new product Microsoft Teams. At some time this year, most of the 100 million Business users will have to migrate across to Teams, or find somewhere else to make a video call. That’s a huge risk to take, it’s also decisive and clear. Should it survive the transition (and we think it’ll be just fine), Microsoft will have a singular service to sell–it won’t be hiding services within services.

    But all the name-switching and constant change in big-name video conferencing platforms shows just how much havoc troublemaking disruptor Slack is creating for these established peers. The best way to pull off the can’t-beat-them-join-them trick may be to admit change is underway, and just present your answer as a shiny new device.

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