Web and Chat


If you just started reading this blog, you probably wouldn't know that I actually starting getting readers way back when I created a Java/Jabber version of Simon Fell's MSN BlogToaster RSS Alert Bot in June 2002. The idea is that you could add the bot to your Jabber buddies, and tell it to monitor some feeds and when they updated you'd get an IM. It was cool. It still is - the same sort of alert functionality has manifested itself inside of MSN Messenger's Spaces integration and AOL is rumored to be using AIM as the basis of their MySpace killer as well. Anyways, before I moved off to other shiny things, I tried to add more community features to the bot where you could "shout" to the other people using the same bot, or even post to your weblog. Back then there weren't that many blogs (we're talking, in the thousands) so that sort of thing was a novelty. But still there's an attaction to chat/blog integration for me.

I've actually tried adding chat to this blog directly a few times over the years - I played with many Java Applets and tried at least one or two different Flash-based apps. One was stand alone, and the other integrated with an IRC channel... That was sort of interesting. Then my server got hacked, and I was convinced it was through the PHP proxy script and didn't put it back up again. (It was Awstats that had the exploit, actually, but by then the incentive had passed). I also played with UserPlane's Flash chat as well, which is interesting and fun because it builds on Adobe/Macromedia's media server stuff so you can have voice and webcams integrated as well - the only downside is that it pops up a separate window, so it didn't really feel like part of my site - it was just a link.

Now we're entering a new phase it seems in the idea because of Ajax (I saw on someone's weblog, they called chat the "Hello World" of Ajax). There's a bunch of chat sites launching which all have links to blogs in one way or another - via tags, or URLs, or channels, etc. Throw some Javascript on your page and you've got insta-chat for your readers. The cross-blog opportunity is pretty interesting I admit, though most of the chat I've seen so far has been pretty low-quality and the value has been pretty dubious. On the other hand there's Campfire which I think is pretty great - having a private archived group chat on the web, and Google added IM to their Gmail web page. Then there's also NewsVine, which has a "Start Chatting" link at the bottom of each news story which drops down a hidden Flash-based chatbox where the people who are reading that article can interact in real time. It's the first thing I noticed when I first tried out the site. The issue of course is that there's lots of articles, and that spreads out the numbers of chatters a bit too thinly, IMHO. Regardless, it's pretty cool.

I'm not really sure what attracts me to this concept so much, but there's something there I find compelling. I think it's because I can see what's happening on my server during the day - I can watch the server traffic come and go, and I can see the stats and see who's reading this from all over the world... we're talking thousands of people. It's kind of like having a movie theater and seeing tons of people coming to see the show and leaving and you're thinking, "Hey, I bet if I opened up a bar right here, people might have a chance to interact a bit."

So I just added Jalenack's Shoutbox Wordpress plugin to my blog... I modified it a bit, so that instead of sitting in the sidebar, it's actually at the bottom of each post page. It's hidden (ala Newsvine) and you can click the "chat about this post" link and it'll drop down with some DHTML magic. The difference though is that instead of having each post be its own chat, they're all the same chat - but when you say something, your message has a link back to the page you were reading. I'm experimenting - I'm not sure if that will add value or not, but I thought it'd be neat.

Will the chat get spammed? Probably. Will it get loads of moronic anonymous comments? Sure (that's happening already). Might it take down my server with constant pings? Maybe. Is chat really a substitute for comments in terms of quality? Definitely not. So why bother? Like I said, I'm not sure, but there's something about it I find compelling. I think the ideal solution would be some sort of IM integration as well - where you could click a button on the weblog and chat via your IM client rather than an in-page chat box. Something like that.

Let's see if this version lasts... :-)


Update: Here's the Mobile Version of the chat. :-D

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