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.