UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Experiments With Meebo

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 January 2007

I mentioned previously that I’d installed the Meebo sidebar widget in order to experiment in providing a real-time chat facility on this blog. I’ve now made use of it and can report on the findings.

Viewing blog readers using MeeboIn order to use Meebo I need to go to the Meebo Web site and log in. This provides me with a Web-based client for accessing a variety of instant messaging services, such as MSN and Yahoo Messenger, Jabber, etc. It addition it provides me with an environment for talking to readers of this blog’s Web site. Interestingly the first think I notice in my Meebo window in my Web browser is a list of the current viewers of the blog, as illustrated. However as I just see a random user name I don’t know who the users are (although I guess I could type in “Boo!” – which might cause readers to jump).

A chat with a blog reader using MeeboNormally a reader of my blog would type something in to the Meebo sidebar widget, which would case my PC to beep, and the Meebo window task bar to flash, indicating that I’d received a message. I can then chat to the remote users (and if they’ve given their name, I’ll know whom I’m chatting with – as long as they’ve been honest, of course).

My first experiment was with Phil Wilson, a colleague at the University of Bath. Phil pointed out some of the usability problems with the small sidebar widget. Our discussion, which is illustrated, then moved on to talk about some of the possible dangers in using third party messaging tools (how do we know the third party isn’t harvesting our content, for example).

The chat with Phil was staged in order to get feedback on his views on the interface. Shortly afterwards I had a discussion with a reader of my blog whom I did not know. As can be seen, the tool can be used to receive user feedback.

Another chat using Meebo.

The third chat I had was with Roddy MacLeod, a librarian at Heriot-Watt University and editor of the Internet Resources Newsletter. A suggestion which Roddy made
was that a chat service like this could be used to provide an ask-a-library type service. With academic libraries seeming to should greater interests in providing blog services for their user communities, it might be timely to explore use of such a chat service within the content of a library blog.

Unfortunately my discussion with Roddy was abruptly terminated, I suspect due to the Meebo widget:-( There are still issues to be addressed related to use of real-time chat services. As most of the time I won’t be around to respond to queries (and even if I am online, I may be busy with other work) it is not necessarily desirable to have the chat widget available, which most of the time is unsuccessfully attempting to see if I am online. Perhaps, for me, it might be more appropriate for me to provide the chat widget if I am particularly keen on engaging in discussions with blog readers. For a wider blogging service, such as a library service blog, for example, the Meebo widget may prove useful – although I should mention that there are similar tools available, such as Koolim which Steve commented on in response to my initial post on this topic.

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5 Responses to “Experiments With Meebo”

  1. There are a couple of companies I know of which offer this “real-time chat” to their support frontline but even then there isn’t always someone there and of course timezones are an issue, but they generally do a good job of having someone available to talk to. When it works it’s brilliant, but of course in these cases you’ve got a group of people who’re effectively paid to be available, unlike your librarian example. I guess that’s where your BrianBot could step in :)

  2. Paul Walk said

    On the Ask a Librarian idea – I’m reminded of the People’s Network Enquire Service:

    http://www.peoplesnetwork.gov.uk/enquire/index.html

    This follows a cooperative model, embracing the “if you use the world’s librarians, there’s always someone online to answer your query” idea. So as a participating librarian, your users are being served ‘out of hours’ by a librarian in a different timezone.

  3. [...] Experiments With Meebo [...]

  4. This looks very promising, and could be considered for a more forward facing role in HE websites. At the University of Portsmouth we have been using LivePerson since June 2003 for a general live enquiries service through our website. Aside from the problem of only being available during office hours, it has been very useful in providing a more relaxed way of potential students making intial enquiries about studying with us.

    Of course we pay annually for LivePerson, there a number of other things it can provide, and it is quite flexible in terms of customisation. But it may well be worth looking into whether meebo chat could perform in a similar way.

  5. Hi James – thanks for the info (it’s very useful to hear about what institutions are doing). I should point out, though, that I’m not endorsing the Meebo application itself – I’m suggesting that live chat for use in blogs (and elsewhere) might be a useful service to evaluate. There will be other applications besides Meebo (and the LivePerson service you’ve mentioned) to investigate.

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