Think about any given place where the spoken word is part of communicating, and think about the word associated with it: event, seminar, meeting, broadcast, speech, collaboration, talk radio.
Just like the word ‘seminar’ comes from a root of ‘teaching,’ web seminars are typically environments where information is imparted. The reason we like this representation is because a few things are implied.
One, it’s a ‘few to many’ environment. There may be only one presenter, but like an in-person seminar at a tradeshow or association luncheon, a seminar often accommodates a panel of presenters, often with a facilitator.
Two, the content is structured toward a particular outcome, but often there is a high degree of interactivity. Unlike a pure broadcast, this may be the opportunity to participate in forms of feedback such as ‘virtual hand raising.’
Finally, a key benefit to any given audience member of the presentation material is often eclipsed by the personalized response they receive when they get a chance to ask a question of a presenter or panelist.
A web seminar is a real-time connection for a group of people, albeit they can be remotely distributed.
Early on, a webcast was a broadcast over the web…with equally little interactivity. Many webcast technology vendors now provide limited forms of interactivity, but pure, real-time interactivity isn’t quite the same as what web conferencing makes possible due to differences in how the technologies works.
Webinar, of course, is the words ‘web seminar’ in a contracted form. It’s usage has become broad, but this old timer has two cautions. Webinar is trademarked, and it’s changed hands a few times in terms of ownership. Hypothetically the owner of the trademark could make a lot of lives really stinky if they wanted to throw their legal weight around. I think that it’s like recognizing early on that while every one knows what a ‘Band-Aid’ is, the wise bandage maker will avoid building someone else’s brand and find their own moniker.
Sidebar for Promoters: Unfortunately for search marketers the words ‘web seminar’ don’t get searched on much relative to ‘webcast’ and ‘webinar.’ Mix in the confusion that ‘webcast’ means ‘audio transmission’ in a variety of ways, including on-demand content such as investor relations calls and podcasts (‘iPod-casts), you can either take your chances on ‘webinar,’ live with webcast confusion, or plan to just use them all interchangeably so as to optimize your website.