I’m part of a group using Meebo for chat reference, and while it’s been fine so far, it lacks a couple of features we’d like to have. One: the ability for the user to leave the chat page without ending the session. Two: the ability for the user to leave us a message if s/he arrives when we’re not on.
I’m poking around in other web-chased chat options, and so far I’m turning up a couple of options.
- Meebo: No limit on concurrent users, as far as I know. Requires the librarian to keep the Meebo.com page open in a browser in order to stay on the service. (Although they now also offer a sidebar widget that may remove that requirement.)
- Plugoo: Only five concurrent users. Doesn’t require the librarian to keep a web page open, because it doesn’t offer a proprietary chat client–instead, it works through an existing chat account such as Meebo, AIM, YM, etc. Users can leave a message if they access the service when the librarian isn’t on.
- Hab.la: Allows user to navigate away from the web page without ending the session. (See this post on infodoodad.) Has a dedicated page for library services. Only allows 5 concurrent users. Only allows one librarian at a time (but they’re working on more.) Hab.la also seems like an interesting new delivery model, in that the chat bar sits unobtrusively in the bottom corner of any page you want; to chat, users click on it to open a window. So instead of devoting a single library web page to chat, you could put chat bars on every web page and not worry about whether people could find their way to the single service point. Sort of like having librarians roaming all over the library. (Of course, that limit on concurrent users could get sticky.)
None of these tools archives chat transcripts, which is a drawback. On the other hand, they all offer anonymity to both participants in the conversation, which is a plus.
So, to sum up (click through for full-size version):
If I got anything wrong, or have outdated information here, please let me know.