Livechat software – beyond Meebo

Currently many libraries are embeding Meebo and Meebo room chats on their websites (subject guides, home pages, opacs) to enable users to contact them.

The attractions of Meebo is clear it’s free and easy to setup and easy to use for both users and librarians. Users don’t have to install any additional software to chat, so the barrier of entry to use is lowered.

That said, Meebo and its cousins are still essentially mere extensions of Instant Messenging/chat software and are not customized for providing virtual customer support.For instance, commercial software such as Livechat, or Livehuman provide the following features not available in Meebo

  1. Real time traffic monitoring of sites visited by users
  2. Push websites and images
  3. Auto-chat proactively open a chat window with your customer
  4. Saving of transcripts, canned replys
  5. Support for multi-operators

Clearly these features can be useful to librarians, particular  #1,#2 and #4. Unfortunately such software is pricy, but  recently I discovered 2 free alternatives. One hosted solution (Hab.la) and one open source solution (Crafty Syntax Live support).

Crafty Syntax Live support is far more capable then the former but requires that you have access to your own servers to install the software. Hab.la requires only you sign up with them and insert code snipplets into the webpages you want to allow live support. This post will focus on the Hab.la

Hab.la provides two main kinds of codes to add. The default one is javascript based.(See non-javascript button version) You can customize it (where it appears, color, text message etc) but here is basically what a user on your webpage will see.

The nice thing about the livesupport bar on the bottom right of the screen is that it is a floating bar, as you scroll down the page, it will always appear on the right hand side (you can also choose to have it already in expanded view, see next screenshot).

All the user needs to do is to click on it, and the box expands to a chat window and he can communicate with the librarian on duty. If no-one is on duty, you can customize a message to leave a contact email, or a url to your web form for sending queries.

The librarian monitoring the chat, can receive the message and communicate with the user through anything from MSN, AIM, Gchat, Meebo or whatever is their favourite instant messaging application (desktop or web-based) without installing anything new.

One can also use multi-IM clients like Digsby or Pidgin . Here’s how it looks like in Pidgin when responding to the user. The librarian here is aarontay@hab.la

The librarian isn’t limited to passively waiting to respond to the user, whenever a new user appears on a monitored site, he will appear on the librarian chat buddy list together with the url he is currently on.

In theory it is possible, to watch a given user move throughout your site, notice that he is in trouble (by observing the urls he is going to) and then proactively offering to help.

The librarian can send urls to users in two ways. Firstly by a cutting and pasting the url in the chat. Or by pushing the url (enter the command !push) to the user. Pushing the url will automatically send the user to the url you sent. I personally don’t favour such a method, because it can be irriating to the user. Secondly, I find the pushing feature a bit erratic and can be unreliable.

One interesting feature of hab.la is that the same chat window follows the user as he moves throughout your site (pages that are tagged with the same hab.la code) ,so for instance, the librarian could suggest searches on your opac system, while the user could freely move through your opac search result pages and continue to communicate with the librarian. The librarian will also be able to monitor what pages the users are on.

But what about external databases pages from Scopus, Web of Science , Jstor etc? These are provided by external vendors and you can’t add the hab.la code to them.

Apparently the chat window will continue to appear on them as long as the user is accessing those pages by clicking on the url sent by the librarian. This is not possible with Meebo.

Drawbacks

My testing of Hab.la shows that it is not all a bed of roses however. It is still less stable then Meebo. Replies I sent, sometimes take as long as one minute before they appear on the user’s screen. Clicking on links sent through Hab.la are slow to load. I highly discourage the use of the push function (which automatically loads the users page with the url you choose)  has it is not only jarring to the user, but worse it’s very slow and unstable, often the page locks up.

The free version has another huge drawback, it supports up to only 5 concurrent users. It also lacks some of the more advanced features you expect in live support software like support for more than one operator etc.

Crafty Syntax Live support the free open source version has all this, at the cost of requring some technical skill to install.

Remote screencasting services and software

Recently I discovered 3 freeware software that allows you to remotely do live screencasting, sometimes with web conferencing. The idea of such software is generally to be able to allow people from diverse remote locations to be able to look at what is on your screen “live” and comment.  

One was DimDim and the other Lotus Sametime Unyte Share.  Yuuguu was mentioned in a earlier post.

Of these three, Lotus Sametime Unyte Share (or at least the free version)  is the most limited as it allows you only to  share with one other person. The paid versions gives you more features including the ability to remotely control desktops, share only specific applications. Yuuguu ( the free version)  allows you to connect to up to 5 people, and also allows you to share control of your desktop.

Of course, in terms of sharing with a group (say a tutorial), both are quite limited. DimDim (the free version) is the most generous, allows you to invite up to 20 users. Like the other mentioned tools, people who you invite to view your presentation, don’t have to install anything, all they need is to click on the link you send them. But unlike Lotus Sametime Unyte Share or DimDim even the presenter doesn’t need to install anything (technically for some systems you may need to install a component for sharing of webpages)! 

You can of course stream using camera and/or microphone, but it works perfectly fine withotu either, as they is a nice chat screen for all viewers. You can also chat privately with specific people.

Once you connect, there are 4 modes, you can then share either your whole desktop, a online whiteboard, documents or webpages. Of course by sharing your desktop you can automatically share the desktop, documents or webpages but chances are you might not want to share everything on your desktop

 

 What  DimDim doesn’t do is to allow users to remotely control/share the mouse but personally that’s pretty dangerous and I don’t really see myself doing that anyway.

After ending the session, you will be emailed a link to the whole presentation which is automatically recorded.

All in all  DimDim is pretty cool.  I can think of several ideas in which it can be used in libraries…

A Comparative Citation Analysis of Web of Science, Scopus, and Google Scholar (article review)

References

Levine-Clark, M., & Gil, E. L. (2009).
A comparative citation analysis of web of science, scopus, and google scholar.
Journal of Journal of Business and Finance Librarianship, 14(1), 32-46.
Read full text

Background

There are numerous articles comparing the big 3 cross-disciplinary databases, namely Web of Science,
Scopus and Google scholar. The article above is yet another one written on the same topic. It dutifully
covers old ground by explaining that ISI’s Web of Science is the oldest of the three, with the most depth
(it has the oldest archives) but the least breadth (because it indexes only the most prestigious journals).
Google scholar on the other end of the spectrum is the broadest of the three but mixes in results from
unofficial sources. Scopus lies somewhere in between. It dutifully explains reasons for why citation counts for an article tend to increase as you move from Web of Science to Scopus to Google Scholar. Bauer and Bakkalbasi (2005)‘s often mentioned recommendation that one combine either Scopus or Web of Science
with Google Scholar is mentioned again.

Methodology

Somewhat uniquely the sample articles used for this study comes from business/economics journal set.
They use ISI as a base to select the top 5 ISI and bottom 5 ISI journals based on Impact factors.
In addition they randomly select another 5 Journals not on ISI from Scopus.

For each of 15 journals, they do the following.

  1. Use Sciencedirect’s Top 25 hottest article feature to select 25 “hottest articles”
  2. Any other articles in the same journal issue as the selected 25 “hottest articles” are also selected and are termed “unranked articles”
  3. The total number of citations are then searched for in Web of Science , Scopus and Google scholar.

Major findings

The results are hardly surprising really. As expected

  1. Citations increase in this order, Web of Science, Scopus, Google scholar
  2. Articles from top 5 ISI Journals have higher average citation than those from bottom 5 ISI Journals in all 3 databases.
  3. “Hottest articles” have more average citations than “unranked articles ” across all 3 databases, showing that increased usage leads to more citations
  4. For Scopus and Web of science, Top 5 ISI Journals are compared with bottom 5 ISI Journals and Non-ISI Journals. Somewhat surprising for both, while the highest average citations came from the Top 5 ISI Journals as expected, unranked ISI Journals had higher average citiations than the bottom 5 ISI journals.
  5. For google scholar, they are found a strong correlation between the number of citations each article got and the number of hits/links to the article.

Real time collaboration tools

Want to collaborate with a user, or fellow librarian but you are both not at the same location? No problem try one of the following tools

1. Wikis

Wikis are of course all the rage these days. Besides the two free ones offered by NUS (see here and here), you can also try wetpaint, wikispaces etc.

Wikis allow you to edit each other’s document, to track and revert changes. To put comments on the discussion place etc. Still Wikis are strictly speaking not real-time. Only one person can edit the same document at the same time, or you risk having edit conflicts. Also you will probably need to use some instant messenger client to actually chat in real time.

2. Googledocs

Googledocs allows you to upload office documents. You can then invite users to comment via email and edit the documents in real-time (they require a google account). Googledocs includes a online chat window so you can communicate in real-time with people editing the document.

There are many other similar online services that one can also consider including Zoho, OpenGoo, and Adobe Buzzword

3 Etherpad

Etherpad is touted as “Googledocs done right”. For one thing, even googledocs isn’t really real-time as it takes 10-15 seconds for changes to update. Secondly Etherpad doesn’t require that the user log in with google account. Thirdly etherpad automatically shows changes added by different users in different colors which makes it handy to see who changed what.

4. Yuuguu

For a change of pace try Yuuguu . It is a screensharing and IM application. Users can see your screen, they can request for the right to control your mouse and keystrokes etc ( too dangerous to allow if you ask me). While you need to do download and install the application, other users just need to point their browser to a url and enter a pin that you give them. There is also a Instant messenging chat function built in , so you can communicate with those watching.

For even more online collaborative tools see this amazing post!

So what do you think dear readers? Can any of these be used for your work?