In the genus of synchronous tools, Interact Now is a different
species. Formerly known as iLearning, and then Capstar, Interact
Now joined the Thomson NETg fold in 2004. The product was initially
developed as a synchronous learning platform in support of a
satellite-based distance learning classroom solution.
This history is reflected in the product's rich use of live video,
which is incorporated into a virtual classroom interface that
scales to an audience of thousands. The video isn't supplied by
simple web cams, but is typically studio-produced and delivered. To
support this platform, Interact Now offers optional professional
services for technical support, event management, virtual
instructor-led training, consulting, and custom content creation.
"Our sweet spot is really the customer who is looking to rapidly
produce a highly interactive, synchronous learning experience for
very large audiences," says vice president of services Chris
The name may not be as familiar as some others in the synchronous
tools field, but Interact Now is the distance learning platform of
choice for a couple of heavy hitters in the training and education
field. For example, the National Association of College and
University Business Officers (NACUBO) uses the product for its
distance education programs.
Interact Now looks to be a big part of Thomson NETg's future. Since
2000, Interact Now has had four major software version releases,
with additional point releases moving to production on a quarterly
or semi-annual basis.
Thomson NETg is part of Thomson Learning, which is one of four
groups of the parent company, Thomson Corporation. The
corporation's current market capitalization of approximately $25
billion is the largest in the business services industry. While it
hasn't been a spectacular stock market performer in recent years,
the corporation has enjoyed steady growth and has a strong balance
sheet. With many training-related assets, Thomson Learning offers a
favorable business context for Interact Now, with plenty of capital
available and a wealth of content from other Thomson units that it
can draw on.
Time and again we hear that the biggest obstacle to using
synchronous tools is that the end user can't figure out how to
operate them. The Interact Now interface has five different views
and could easily become complex. Fortunately, each view is rendered
in an easy-to-interpret way. There are two administrative views in
the Builder portion of the tool (an administrator uses the Builder
to set up sessions), and three additional views of the live event.
I hate to call anything "foolproof," but the Interact Now
participant interface comes close to earning that designation. No
need to worry about novice end-users here. Everything loads
automatically, and there is no need for the participant to do
anything but sit back and watch the presentation begin.
Live video elements display in the upper left corner of the screen,
with intuitively labeled controls that allow the user to stop or
pause the action and adjust the volume. There's also a
simple-to-use feature that allows the participant to change the
rate the video is being streamed to their desktop without ever
leaving the interface.
Interact Now may be complex, but its key features are easy to
- The major differentiating features are the use of live video
and the ability to scale to audiences in the thousands. Video must
be produced in a studio, not using a web cam. If your company has
its own video conferencing room, that will work. Or, you can make
use of any of Thomson NETg's partner studios set up in major cities
across the United States.
- You don't have to use the video feature. Without it, the
product functions much like other synchronous classroom tools,
leveraging Internet audio delivery of the presentation. Interact
Now does provide better-than-most support for rich-media objects,
which is good news for those who are tired of synchronous
- One of the real features that sets Interact Now apart are its
consulting services. You can learn best practices from a company
that has developed and delivered thousands of hours of online
Training, documentation, and support
The training and support available for Interact Now is one way that
being part of a large educational products and services company
pays off. The product is actually positioned in the Services
division of NETg. As a result, there is a big focus on providing
consulting services to help customers get the most for their
Interact Now also benefits from Thomson NETg's experience producing
online training, classroom-based instructional materials, and job
aids. You'll find well-designed support materials that come from
instructional designers, not engineers.
Value for the money
As with much else about Interact Now, their pricing model is also
different. Rather than a true concurrent user model, Interact Now
is available in a "per live maximum seat model." What does that
mean? Basically, if you purchase a 50-seat license, you can hold as
many live programs as you want, concurrently if you wish. Also, as
long as no session goes over 50 people per session, you won't incur
any overage charges.
That also includes unlimited access to any asynchronous content
produced. "Our pricing model is compelling to our customers because
it is hard for them to predict concurrency," says Brenchley.
If you don't want a full service package but would like a little
extra hand-holding for certain events, you can also purchase
service packages separately.
Interact Now really isn't one of the usual suspects when it comes
to synchronous tools. If live or pre-produced video is part of your
online curriculum or if your training audience routinely numbers in
the hundreds per course, Interact Now just may be the tool for you.
It does have some shortcomings, but I think the future looks bright
for this product.
Ease of use
Value for the money