We’ve been having discussions in the library lately about replacing our Docutek VRLplus software that we currently use for chat reference. Theoretically it’s a great software because in addition to the instant messaging, it has the ability to co-browse, or capture the screen so that you can demonstrate to the user what they need to do (on the website, in a database, etc). Unfortunately, when I first started working the reference desk and asked about this feature it turns out no one uses it. Because it breaks down and doesn’t work. This really is a shame because it would be so helpful. I spent 10 minutes the other day explaining to a student through chat how to find an article through a library database, step by step. Having a visual demo would have made things much easier.
In addition, this software requires the library user go through several steps then fill out a form to connect. The chat service is used regularly, but I wonder if it were much simpler to use if it would be used much more. There is definitely a demand from our customers to keep things simple.
I’ve been familiar with Meebo for a couple years now, and finally today created an account so that I could embed the widget on this blog (see it, to the right?). The webmaster for LSO placed one on their blog as well as their website over a year ago and it works well because it’s so very easy to use. It doesn’t require creating any sort of account or filling out any kind of form, you can be anonymous if you like or type in your name.
Libraries throughout the United States and in Canada have started using Meebo as an alternative to other software: the University of Iowa, Florida Atlantic University, University of Calgary, Eastern Michigan University, University of Waterloo, and American University Library, just to name a few. See the LIS Wiki for a comprehensive list of libraries using chat service and the types of chat services they’re using.
There are disadvantages to using Meebo. For one, when you’re just using the widget (“Meebo Me“), the links aren’t live, you have to copy and paste. I’ve also heard rumblings of privacy issues but I’m not sure what exactly those are; definitely something to consider.And of course, you won’t have high level features such as saving and e-mailing conversations, keeping statistics, etc. But I found out today that you can actually send files through Meebo, which I thought was very cool and could come in handy.
I do think it’s definitely worth exploring, since a whole lot of libraries have found it to be successful. It’s fast, simple, and absolutely free, so why not give it a shot?