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Chat Software

Q: What kind of chat software do you recommend for a web site I am developing?
[Christina E. Bublick, bublick@ceb-associates.com]

  • Unless you've got an extremely purposeful use for chat, I'd highly recommend against it. If you need any kind of robustness, a few things to make sure of:
    • This site is hosted on some mighty mighty bandwidth on a screaming machine.
    • You've got complete control of the server (ie no virtual hosting) - you'll probably need to increase the maximum number of connections. By "complete control of the server" I mean that traditionally you needed to have control over a server (restarting it etc...) in order to make chat work. In a shared setting (ie UUNet or similar ISP) this is not an option. Therefore, you would need your own box.

    Depending on where budgets for your client lie, you can consider a few options... The first is the bottom bottom bottom, custom CGI kind of thing. And those are things any programmer worth his/her salt could crank out for you... At this end of the spectrum, we could do something for you, or you could just surf around and look for a few shareware type things...I think, however, the conclusion you'll come to when you look at the interface on these things is.. Blech!

    At the high end of the spectrum ($$$) is the avatar type web chat... And there are a few high end commercial products that do that fairly well...

    The bottom line is that I don't know of any "off-the-shelf" products that are going to just provide you with chat. Ultimately, you'll have some programming to do. Also, unfortunately, people have grown up with AOL Chat. And of everything AOL does wrong, chat is one of the things they do really really right. It's extremely difficult to get that level of functionality on the web. Look at ESPN Sportzone's chat... Blech!
    [Robert Rose, rrose@mxdii.com]

  • Yes, this is is a big deal to set up well. I agree with most of Robert's thoughts. I have seen some cool stuff done with Parachat...an applet based chat deal where you use THEIR server to conduct chatting. (http://parachat.com). Their free service might not be what you're looking for but they have a more "private" version (lacking ads, etc.) that might work for you.
    [David J. Simonetti, Projix Corporation]
  • I respectfully have to disagree with Robert’s assessment of "Chat" as an inappropriate application for a web site. I have included some quotes below which indicate, in no uncertain terms, that web based chat is the next wave on the Internet. Human contact and interaction is the very essence of our humanity. Even the most animated Web page still leaves the "surfer" alone in cyber space. People want and need to be in contact with other live humans, not some fill in the blank CGI scripting to post a message that no one reads.

    I am involved with an "off the server-shelf" chat program and am using it to build virtual communities where local users can connect with each other. THE PALACE is a 2D graphic chat environment with a very high degree of flexibility and several attractive features (with more in development). It incorporates Microsofts NetShow and audio streaming which enables live presentations. I can upload an image of my living room and chat with other people sitting on my virtual sofa. Through the use of animated avatars I can express a wide range of moods without saying a word, much as I could in a real life meeting. Conversation is much more spontaneous. Humor can be both verbal and visual!
    [Rick Larson, upriver@erols.com]

  • Are you sure you want chat capabilities vs. discussion group capabilities? Unlike discussion groups, chat requires that all parties be logged on simultaneously and tends to generate no archive.

    For simple and inexpensive discussion group software, the latest beta of FrontPage 98 (http://www.microsoft.com/frontpage/) is said to have a drop-in module. The best discussion group capability I have seen is offered by wellengaged (http://engaged.well.com).
    [Paul Albert, paul@routelink.com]

  • You may want to look into O'Reilly's Web Board... Not only does it have chat software but also creates forums with threaded messages... You can get folks to keep accessing your site not only for chat but for the threaded forum conversations of other cigar afficiandos.
    [Serge Obolensky, Information Industry Association]
  • There are two different chat packages our group is looking at. A real solid multi platform chat program is iChat. (http://www.ichat.com/)

    Another way of chatting is using posts. This is useful for low traffic chat rooms. With a program like iChat you must believe that a good number of people will be on at the same time. This is more difficult than most people think. So a good alternative is a program like PushPin. http://www.km-1.com/.
    [Dave@matique.com]

  • I have run across two easy to integrate chat platforms that work excellently with the web. The first is iChat located at http://www.ichat.com and the other is Chat Planet located http://www.chatplanet.com . Although you will pay to use these, each one offers its own advantage. At Chat Planet, for example, they host chat sessions right on their server, so you don't have to worry about the chat section of you site eating up your bandwidth.
    [Jess Pugsley, jpugsley@surfnsearch.com]
  • I know of a software tool that is used by Metasystems Design Group (they are Training Place partners). The software is the discussion piece of my companies virtual learning environments. I like it because it encourages collaboration and develops a virtual community (it is the package Meta uses for their on-line community of 4000). The software is called Caucus, it is available from Screenporch. You can find out more at http://screenporch.com.
    [Russ Williams, russwill@tmn.com]
  • As an alternative to chat, mailing lists offer the best of many worlds. Mailing lists do not require simulataneous participation, they encourage thoughtful participation, they are easily archived and made searchable and they are "pushed" information. For those interested, a company called Revnet (http://www.revnet.com/) offers an excellent mailing list service.
    [Paul Albert, paul@routelink.com]
  • Without a doubt the the best mailing list and community software is lyris. (http://www.lyris.com) Get message by email, web or newgroups! Hate to give away the secret, but you'd find out eventually anyway.
    [Ray Daly, onsports online]

     

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