Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Blue Ferret Software Review - Web-Based Chat

This will be a twist: a review on a software type, not a specific program. On top of that, a type I haven't specifically used. However, I have enough geek-cred to understand the basis of it. My conclusions shall be on target! (ominous thunderclap)

I'm talking about Web-based chat services. Real-time communication, totally online. This is a step past IM, even though it's along the same lines.

First, a little background (and qualifier). I've been an avid IRCer (that stands for "Internet Relay Chat," just in case) since I first discovered the Web back in '96. So text-based group chat has, to me, always been a fundamental part of my understanding of "the Web." I was even a little resistant to IM at first. It seemed too limited, too closed off. And the clients' bells & whistles were annoying.

I've thought for quite a while that a medium like IRC would be perfect for business collaboration. We all use words to communicate. Email is everywhere. Chat is a logical extension. But, IRC has a learning curve. That kills a lot of interest right there. Busy professionals don't have time to learn yet another interface. Wouldn't it be better to have a form of chat that's flexible enough to do one-on-one AND group meetings, but simple enough that it can be done through a website?

Those services are here now. Here are two prime examples of Web Chat that I've come across:

Meebo is IM on steroids. Legal steroids, of course. (No one named Barry works there; I checked.) It's a website where you can sign in to and use multiple IM connections at the same time. Think Trillian or Miranda, all contained in one webpage. AJAX can certainly produce some winning sites.

I like Meebo because it centralizes IM onto the Web. The interface is clean and quick. Absolutely no software to install. And because you're using a web browser for chatting instead of an IM client, you have the same level of security as the rest of your browsing.

Meebo is one of a few sites that provides multi-IM connections, but it's in my opinion the cleverest. The simplicity is alluring, the blog is wacky, and the forum is full of good content. Can't beat the price tag, either.

If you're in the market for an IM solution for your small business, want to keep it simple, and would prefer not installing a bunch of software, go for Meebo.

Now, if you're looking for totally universal chat...

Campfire - Group Business Chat.
A service that hosts group chat on the Web. 128-bit security. Common-platform, real-time communication anywhere. No client to install. Permanent logs available 24/7.

Amazing, isn't it?

With Campfire, all chat goes into one URL-accessible record. Now nobody can say they're "not on the same page" anymore. With a service like Campfire, everyone has to be on the same page - because there's only one page! Centralizing the chat means everyone contributes their information, and everyone gets all the contributions at once.

Here's what I mean. Say Bill needs some numbers crunched for next month's purchase order. So he logs onto his company's Campfire chat and asks Nick in Accounting. Nick posts them on the chat, because he finished them five minutes ago and doesn't want people to start bugging him for those numbers.

But wait, Emma needs those numbers too, for market research. She was going to call Nick, even though she knows he hates getting calls at number-crunching time. So she logs onto the company chat and finds that he posted the numbers a few minutes ago. She grabs them off the log and gets back to her research. Everyone's happy, minimal interaction necessary, and no one was bugged.

In my profile, it says that I blog about technology, writing, and the communication strategies that occur between them. Web-Based Chat is definitely one of the shining examples of how technology and writing work together to produce reliable business Web communication. Web-Com. Check it out!

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P.S. - What's Web-Com, you ask? You'll have to check back and see. I will be saying a lot more about Web-Com very soon.

1 Comments:

At 11:02 AM , Anonymous Scott Arthur Edwards said...

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