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#9 Chat and Instant Messaging

2009 August 9
by naomi

Update 7/5/12 — Meebo has been purchased by Google and will cease operation on July 11, 2012. This is sad and sudden news for many in the library world, since so many libraries (many on reduced budgets) had built their chat reference service around the free, embeddable MeeboMe widget. As such, the bulk of this Method centered on Meebo and will need to be re-written in greater detail as soon as time permits.


What is Chat or Instant Messaging?

Chat, Instant Messaging and IM are all different names for the same thing. IM allows for real-time communication via text. It’s a conversation, in real time, but instead of talking, you’re typing.

You can do it online, using one of the many¬†chat services, like MSN Messenger, Google Talk, AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) or Yahoo! Messenger. You can do it in a chat room, with many people text-talking at the same time. You can do it on Facebook and¬† other social networking sites and from within many of today’s email applications. Chat is heavily used in online gaming, too. And if you have one of the cool kids’ phones, you can chat using your phone, walking around the library. ūüôā

Why should you know about chat?

It’s Social
Chat is one of the givens in online social networking. You’ve seen teens at your library, typing frantically, smiling, laughing, crowding around computers. They’re chatting. Almost any online game has a chat window for players to communicate during the game. Even Facebook’s online Scrabble game has a chat feature.

It’s Efficient
But chat is not just for kids. Many corporations and businesses use chat to enhance communication between colleagues. One of the great things about chat is the ability to set your status. You can be available, away, busy, offline, or invisible or you can set your own status (“I’m eating!”). You can see who’s available, away or offline (but if they’re invisible, you can’t see them, of course).

Seeing someone’s availability status is a huge boost to communication avenues. When you make a phone call or send an email, you have no idea if the person is available to answer you. But you do with chat.

Another thing you can’t do over the phone is share a document or a website link with your fellow talker. Sending a link over chat is easy – just paste it, and the other person just clicks.

It’s Easy
There are many chat services that take your existing chat accounts and let you log in to all of them at once. So your friends from AOL, MSN, Yahoo and Google can all chat with you, and you only have to have one service running. The majority of these services are paid services, though, and up until this month the great majority of libraries used Meebo as their tool of choice. Meebo was reliable, free, easy, and came with an embeddable chat widget that many libraries embedded throughout their catalog and online presence. At this writing (7/05/12), there is no free chat service that offers everything Meebo offered. Librarians are scrambling to find a good replacement, and several have mentioned Zoho Chat and Digsby as possibilities. Read these recent articles and blog posts to learn more about what librarians are thinking/saying regarding the demise of Meebo and the search for an adequate replacement:

It can be Download-Free (and Account-Free)!
One of the best things about the MeeboMe chat widget is that it allowed people who didn’t have a chat account on any of the services listed above to chat with you anyway – and without downloading anything. Great for patrons! This feature is something many libraries/librarians found essential to operating a good chat/IM reference service — as such, it usually tops the list as a feature they want to see in whichever tool they select for their virtual reference service.

Libraries are Using It
One nice benefit of offering a chat/IM reference service is that those who IM can add the library to their buddy list, fostering a longer-term connection between the patron and the library.

The following are examples of ways that libraries are using chat/IM to connect with their community:

*More examples to come as the following examples are based on the now obsolete Meebo tool*

Discovery Exercise

Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger or the like

  1. If you¬†have a Gmail account (Google’s email account), a Yahoo email account, a Hotmail account or a similar account that has chat built into it, log into your account and explore the chat feature by identifying someone from your contact list that is online and initiating a chat with them. If you are having trouble finding someone from your contact list to chat with, find a friend or¬†colleague that you know has a similar account and set up a time to chat with them.
  2. In your “Method 9”¬†blog post, tell us about your¬†chat experience. How did it go? Did you find it easy¬†or difficult? Also, what do you think about chat/IM and libraries? Is your library currently offering chat/IM and if not, do you think it might in the future?

More information for the curious

It’s a whole different language…
People who IM, much like those who text message on their phones, use many abbreviations to speed along the conversation. You know, things like LOL, FWIW, IMHO, and NOYB.
Huh? Find out what these mean and more at:

Video & Audio Chat and VoIP
Of course, the web being the web, things evolve, add new features, and get much more exciting. Most chat services allow video or audio during chat. Video chat allow you to see who you’re talking to, and they can see you, provided you both have a webcam. Simply click on the little web camera icon, and you can start a video conversation. And with a mic plugged into your PC or turned on in your laptop, you can talk to someone over the internet.

Skype allows you to talk, chat or make video calls for free to other people who have Skype on their computers. It requires a download, which is also free.

If you and those you’d like to contact have Apple/Mac products, FaceTime is a 99 cent video calling app you should definitely look into.

You’ve probably heard of VoIP (Voice over IP). VoIP is the digital transmission of voice through the internet. Many companies are going to VoIP technology to handle their telephone services. Pima County Public Library’s entire phone system is VoIP.

A few more articles and resources you might want to check out

Finished¬†learning this Two-Stepping Method? When you’re ready, move on to Method¬†10.

3 Responses
  1. Denice McGregor permalink
    October 19, 2009

    Skype is especially fantastic for international visits with friend. It is convenient and of course free. I needed to purchase a video for my computer and install the software, then it was easy to use.

  2. November 5, 2009

    As I said in the blog, we use Meebo at the reference desk and during this Method I got a message. Talk about appropriate!

    I also want to try Skype it sounds like a great thing. I know a librarian in NZ, maybe I’ll call them.

  3. DeAnna Willman permalink
    December 22, 2009

    I do not like the IM thing- I am not one to sit around and wait upon messages that might come in. This is as annoying to me as sitting around the phone waiting for a call. I also do not see the value of IM for libraries. B ut, I see that others like and use it.

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