In this post, I’ll take a look at some of the free Web chat services out there.
What can an embedded Web chat box do for my learners?
An embedded Web chat box can be used to keep learners focused on a particular set of resources you’ve collected on a Web site while you have a synchronous discussion. Why not just use a Webinar platform like Adobe Connect then and share your screen? This might be a perfectly viable option but it prevents learners from having spontaneous live chats about a Web site at times that suit them.
So considering that there are occasions when you want to collect learners at a particular Web site, let’s take a look at some of the free platforms out there that will help you do this. Many of these platforms offer additional features for a fee. I’m only discussing services that don’t show ads.
Meebo allows learners to connect to a chat on a Web site using tools they may already have like their Yahoo! IM service, Twitter, and Facebook, and other platforms. You can embed Meebo into a Web site, Blogger blog, or self-hosted WordPress blog and you have control over the interface that appears. Meebo also allows users to drag and drop images and flash videos into a chat. You can create private Meebo Rooms which means you can exclude spammers.
The video below demonstrates how Meebo can be added to a Web site (in this case, using the free Web site service, Webstarts). Although the video shows using Meebo to provide live customer support, you can also use it to create a learning environment focused on a Web site such as a wiki.
Webbychat is an easy-to-install chat box that you can embed on a Web site or blog site such as Blogger and even WordPress. The tool offers the ability to customize different aspects of the Webbychat interface. You can control the powers that your users have (and one of the first powers I’d strip would be the ability to create drumrolls). You also have a range of powers as a moderator, including the ability to freeze a chat while you are “talking” and to delete chats in real-time if users violate chat rules. The tool supports multiple languages and you can even create “breakout rooms” using special script variables. Similarly there are many ways to customize your Webbychat experience (you just can’t be afraid of coding). In Beta, Webbychat will likely include additional features as it evolves. There are no ads running, even when you use the free service.
Zoho Chat offers two useful ways of making a Web site, or even a blog, part of a synchronous learning experience. You can embed a Shoutbox code snippet into a Web page or blog to allow groups of selected visitors to your site to chat amongst themselves. You can also join in the conversation. Live Chat allows you to have a one-to-one conversation with someone visiting your site.
Plugoo also provides an embeddable chat widget. A particularly nice feature of the platform is the ability for a moderator to see comments via his/her own IM system. There’s also a widget available that allows you to embed a Plugoo chat on WordPress.
Chatango provides a basic chat box that you can embed into your Web site or blog. Your chat boxes can be public or private (however, I believe private chats may be limited to one-on-one conversations). As moderator of a chat you have the power to prevent certain words from cropping up in chats and can ban users if your chat happens to be public.
Yaplet provides a bookmarklet that allows you to chat with anyone viewing the same Web page as you so in this sense it’s very versatile since you can use it as a vehicle to gather learners for a discussion of any Web site. You can also embed a Yaplet into your own Web page. As far as I could tell, you cannot create private live chats using this tool.
If you’re working in Google Sites, you can use the Embed Blogger gadget to embed nearly anything into a Web page including a miio group chat or Twitter chat. I’d recommend miio over Twitter because there isn’t a 140 character limit, you can embed multimedia as you chat, and you can create private chat groups.
There are many embeddable Web chat rooms out there. Particularly desirable learning platform features include:
- an ad-free chat box
- moderator controls
- private chat options
The sites above are ad-free and generally provide moderator controls; however, only a subset have private chat room options.
Do you know of other free embeddable chat rooms that meet all three of these criteria?