Chatting Problems

I hope someone can prove me wrong, but there have been no good innovations in the
area of many to many online chatting in a LONG time.  I was reminded of this
lately since our team attempted to use the Chat room mechanism on the MSN Group page
we created for our Whidbey Alpha customers.  I hope someone can prove me wrong,
but here are the problems and some potential solutions as I see them. 

1. Authentication

For our purposes this is a must.  If we are going to have a private chat with
a group of NDA bound customers we need a way to restrict it to that list.  This
immediately rules out a bunch of mechanisms that exist today and is the main reason
why our team is stuck with an MSN groups site (I'll have to write another blog to
complain about the whole MSN Groups problem.).  This one should be brain dead.
I should be able to create a scheduled chat, send out invites with temporary PWs to
a select group of people, and only expect those people to be able to join.  

2. Non-Threaded Discussions

Chat rooms are nightmares for having any sort of organized discussions.  
What ends up happening is people invent strange ways of referencing to threads that
have long since scrolled past.  I've seen people preface their new remarks with
everything from the name of the person involved in that discussion to "RE: 6 comments
ago: <Insert new comment>" .  This is really lame.  With over 5 people
in the room the conversations are bound to be mutli-threaded and dynamic in nature. 
Some people seem to think this chaos is fun, but it becomes less so trying to read
the transcripts for usable feedback the next day. 

Without thinking too deeply I would propose a system such that when you initiate a
new conversation you use one of X available colors to code that conversation (Ok,
so I'm not thinking about the colorblind, but stick with me.). Then, when someone
is responding to a comment on that thread they hit an enter button coded to that thread
with that color so that people can see that this comment is associated with an existing
discussion.  New discussions should be highlighted in some way so people know
there is a new thread to chat about.  I haven't seen it in action yet, but I
think it would be very useful for the feedback sessions we have been using in addition
to other many to many situations. 

3. Scheduling A large Group

Without the need for a room that is always open I should be able to schedule a room
to be available at a certain time for only the group of people I care about. 
This should be similar to a scenario where I want to invite X people to a conference
room.  Back to authentication: only those people should be allowed in with their
passwords and they should have some sort of alert/reminder that they are due in chat
room Y at such a time.

4. "What did I miss?"

So your schedule or your time zone is 30 minutes off from the rest of the world. Why
should that prevent you from being able to see the contents of the first 30 minutes.
Its out there on a bunch of other machines, why can't they share it with you so you
don't have to wait for a transcript to come out before being included.  You could
also pretend that you are participating in a chat and wireless connection goes out
and you are disconnected.  Currently you are penalized the 5 minutes it may take
you to reconnect.  I would love to have all the missing text re-inserted when
I start back up again.  This seems like it would be simple enough.  

If I'm wrong about these issues I hope someone will share with me the software that
enables these key scenarios.  If I'm right I hope I'm not some sort of lone nut
here and other people would also like to implement such a system. 



Comments (4)

  1. I think in terms of chat systems, MSN Messenger is the more evolved for chatting, but it’s not yet been tailored to business use. We use messenger our office to sort out problems, it’s great because you can get on with other stuff and answer people when you’re ready, etc.

    For clients, though we have to do a phone conference or use WebEx chatting, which is a far cry from something like Messenger. But given that messenger’s designed for personal use, I wouldn’t dream giving a client my messenger address, it’s just not for that. (yet ?)

    I’m hoping for a future marriage between Messenger and Outlook, specifically with business users in mind.

  2. J.P. says:

    hmm, one accidental enter apparently caused a blank comment :(.

    Well, I should say up front that this is similar to what my group works on.

    Second, we know that this problem exists and now have a new service called Live Meeting which could help.
    There is a service there called Virtual Classroom, which sounds like its somewhat tailored to your needs. At the same time they offer other services for other types of conferencing. (sorry for the plug, but it IS related to your complaints)

    (Chris:) But as far as instant messaging is concerned, there is a new product coming which is designed for using instant messaging in the enterprise: And, in combination with Office 2003, there is a marriage between windows messenger and outlook. You can now see the presence (opnline/offline/etc) of people that you recieve an email from.

    Also, if you dont want to fit in the cookie cutter world of applications, we just released the latest versions of RTC apis (v1.2) for windows where you can write your own custom apps that use features like presence and Multi-Party IM.

    Although, I LOVE the multi-colored chat room idea 🙂


  3. jay says:

    there is no chat bar at the bottem of the


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