Monday, June 11, 2012

Meebo Migrations: Alternatives for Libraries

As librarians around the world are aware, Meebo has been acquired by Google and is retiring numerous services, including Meebo Messenger and Meebo Me widgets, as of July 11, 2012.  This is a huge moment for libraries; Meebo revolutionized virtual reference by doing away with an entry form altogether.  Many libraries saw their chat statistics go through the roof when they deployed Meebo Me widgets and began advertising buddy names on IM networks like AIM, MSN, and Google Talk.  Our hats are off to them!
But sadly, many libraries now find themselves in a virtual reference vacuum. We've devoted the last several years to building -- and scaling -- LibraryH3lp to provide an unlimited, affordable chat platform for libraries.  While we certainly hope you'll consider trying out LibraryH3lp or its sister product My Customer Cloud as an alternative to Meebo Me widgets, there are many possible paths forward depending on your specific situation.

I need something free, as close to Meebo as possible

Free alternatives are still possible, especially if you do not need multiple staff accounts. If you have been using Meebo Me for widgets, Meebo Messenger for staffing your service, and have advertised screen names on other IM networks like AIM and Google Talk, take a look at imo or Trillian web.  [Update: Zoho chat is shaping up to be a really nice free alternative and includes its own embeddable widget.]
With both imo and Trillian, you aggregate multiple public IM screen names into one librarian-side login in a web messenger client. If you add on something like a Wimzi widget (AIM), you'll have something very close to what you had with Meebo, with IM screen names on a variety of networks, and widgets to put on your web pages.  Both also have messenger clients for staffing from other platforms.  Test any mobile apps you want to use very carefully for push notification functionality, which can be very finicky.

If you don't need your messenger client to be web-based, you can also certainly use multi-protocol desktop clients like Pidgin (PC, Linux) or Adium (Mac) to bring together accounts across IM networks.

Just be aware that having more than one person bring these accounts online simultaneously may cause confusion, or disconnects, depending on the specific IM protocol.

I'd prefer software that supports multiple operators

There are lots and lots of other options out there nowadays if you need an alternative system that routes chats to multiple librarians. However, most products with true multi-operator chat routing won't be free.  We've compiled three time-saving tips that you can use when you compare multi-operator systems.
Look for a robust routing model. A multi-operator system should be robust enough to handle scenarios like this one:
  1. Persons A and B are staffing the service.
  2. Person A accepts an incoming chat.
  3. The patron falls idle for a minute or two.
  4. Person A logs out.
  5. The patron sends a new message.
  6. Person B should get the patron's chat. If not, that is a serious routing problem because this scenario will occur with some frequency.
Pretend you are a patron. See what happens when patrons internally navigate your site and when they follow links off of your site (say, from your library page into an Ebsco database). Embedded-style widgets have issues with patrons clicking links on the larger web page. So it is nice if embedded widgets have a way for the patron to detach the chat from the rest of the page.  With floating-style widgets, it is also important to see what happens if you try to lead your patron away from your own domain. Librarians in particular will often be leading our patrons off of our own sites because of the nature of our work.
Know how many simultaneous widget views you are allowed. Some systems only allow a finite number of patrons to view your widget simultaneously; this is in addition to limits on number of active simultaneous chats or librarian logins. Most libraries have lots of simultaneous viewers on their sites, and it's important to know if your widget will show up for all of them or if there is a cap.

In sum, please be sure to test your chosen solution thoroughly.  Providing robust, multi-operator chat at web scale isn't a trivial problem.  Nearly all systems will provide a free trial of varying length, and you should take full advantage of that.  And, if you decide to go with another free solution at this time, that is still a good decision.  In the happy event that your traffic causes your service to outgrow that system in the future, there are certainly affordable migration paths available for you.

Please consider LibraryH3lp or My Customer Cloud

Though not free, My Customer Cloud can be an almost free alternative to Meebo Messenger and Meebo Me widgets for those with relatively low-volume chat services since its pricing model is per-chat, and purchased chats never expire.  There are also no restrictions on numbers of operators, widgets, or widget views. For services with more traffic, LibraryH3lp offers an affordable flat fee for unlimited chats, operators, and widgets, and widget views. Plus with both products, you also get integrated IM networks and SMS, lengthy free trials, quality assurance and reporting capabilities, downloadable transcripts, and more.

In order to guide you through the process of switching from Meebo, we've compiled a detailed Meebo Migration Guide. Whether with LibraryH3lp or My Customer Cloud, this guide will help ensure a smooth transition for your staff and patrons.

5 comments:

Karl Stutzman said...

Google is no longer supporting the chatback badge

Pam Sessoms said...

Thanks Karl! I'll update the post.

Joel Marchesoni said...

I've been looking at this as well to replace Meebo for my personal use (We switched to LibraryH3lp from Meebo this year) and so far like the look of Zoho (https://chat.zoho.com). They support multiple protocols (including Jabber for LibraryH3lp) and have a few different types of embeddable widgets.

Kelsey Jones said...

You can also try Brosix (www.brosix.com). They have free and paid instant messaging.

Pam Sessoms said...

*Really* nice summary of Zoho chat here: http://digitalbrarian.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/zoho-chat-interface/ Looks like a great option if you don't really need multiple operator routing. They do have group chat, which is nifty.

Not sure, but it might be based on Tigase, which is another option if you're adventuresome and interested in running your own Jabber/XMPP server.