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Community features, while not right for everyone, can be a useful way for many online publishers to create more loyalty amongst users and keep them hanging around longer.
While social networks and blogs are all the rage, one shouldn't forget about message boards and chat when considering community.
Chat can be a great way to bring people together if your website is based around a topic that people are passionate about.
As someone who remembers the hassles of running IRC chat servers back in the day, it's nice to be able to say that times have changed and adding chat to your website today is far easier.
Third-Party Hosted Chat Solutions
Chat can be a resource-intensive feature so for most publishers, a hosted solution is probably most appealing. Here are two of the best options in my opinion:
Web IM service Meebo has a service called Meebo Rooms that lets you create free, customized chat rooms for your website. The offering is quite compelling and even supports photos and videos.
Userplane Webchat 2
Userplane's Webchat 2 is similar in functionality to Meebo Rooms but offers less customization flexibility unless you pay for a Integrated Install, which has a setup fee of $500 and monthly fees starting at $100. The free version is ad-supported.
Self-Hosted Chat Solutions
If you demand the flexibility and control afforded by hosting your chat solution in-house, be sure to check out the following packages.
A few things to keep in mind when choosing to self-host a chat solution:
- The up-front costs to license some of these solutions can be relatively hefty but, having been a satisfied user of one of these solutions for more than 2 years, I think you usually get what you pay for when it comes to quality and scalability.
- Make sure you have the ability to maintain it. Different solutions are based on different platforms.
- Resource usage (both CPU-wise and bandwidth-wise) can be intense if your website is very popular. Consider setting up a dedicated server for chat because of this.