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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:

  • Meebo Rooms
    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.

Happy chatting!

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Published 17 November, 2008 by Patrick Oak

82 more posts from this author

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Dag

Developing a completely custom solution from the ground up is actually not that complicated with technologies such as XMPP[1] and BOSH[2], servers such as ejabberd[3] and Punjab[4] and libraries such as strophejs[5]. The benefit is of course control and integration.

Such a setup and solution also already exist as both third-party[6] hosted and self-hosted[7], called Speeqe.

[1] http://xmpp.org/
[2] http://xmpp.org/tech/bosh.shtml
[3] http://www.ejabberd.im/
[4] http://code.stanziq.com/punjab
[5] http://code.stanziq.com/strophe/
[6] http://speeqe.com/
[7] http://code.stanziq.com/speeqe

almost 8 years ago

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Adi

I'd say the biggest cost of live chat facilities is the resource required to man them. The beauty of technology such as blogs and forums is that they are asynchronous. Chat rooms on the other hand require people to be in the same place at the same time to have any use. So even if you're not planning to staff the rooms they will require a reasonable amount of traffic to get used to any extent.

almost 8 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

We use Whoson (LivePerson is another obvious one) and I'd agree that the main challenge is the customer service *people* rather than the technology itself.

We only use it selectively at the moment e.g. only on high value pages (like in checkout) where there is less traffic and also it only shows when someone has the chat client open i.e. when there is actually someone to chat our end.

It works well but we've just found a very low volume of people wanting to chat. Possibly, just by having it there (like a telephone number) it gives people the confidence to buy without resorting to chat? Hard to measure that though.

Ashley Friedlein
CEO
E-consultancy.com

almost 8 years ago

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Daniel Goodchild

Any opinions on the Google Talk Gadget ?
http://googletalk.blogspot.com/2007/03/google-talk-gadget.html

I've seen it implemented quite effectively.

almost 8 years ago

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Anders Both

Hi . It seems to me that some of the comments mix up live chat and community chat.

Anyway - I am developing a hosted community chat solution, http://www.basechat.com .

If anyone has any comments, feedback or ideas regarding my product, I would be happy to hear from you.

almost 8 years ago

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Liam

Third party hosted chat software is affordable and easy to deploy it on our website. I am using Live2Support on our website and just pay $9.99/month.
http://www.live2support.com

over 3 years ago

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