Spruce up Web site by adding a chat room

Most businesses today have Web sites and e-mail. Not having an online presence in today’s competitive business world is tantamount to not having a phone number or fax machine. Communications and accessibility are the keys and eliminating any one of these vectors to and from your business is a recipe for disaster.

I have a national radio talk show and one of the more popular things I do on my Web site is hosting a live chat room. Having a chat room is a wonderful way to let the people who frequent your Web site interact with each other. Of course, depending on what it is that you do, this may or may not be something desirable. For my purposes, it’s great. And while it may not be immediately apparent to you, think about it for a while. Of course there are businesses where customer interaction may not be advisable, such as a law or medical office.

Then again, since chat rooms can be set up to be anonymous, an exchange of ideas between the people with whom you do business might be a good idea. Obviously only you can be the one to make that determination. If you do decide to give it a try, there are several Web sites that offer chat-room applications. The one I use on my “Computer America” radio talk show is addonChat from addonInteractive technology.

Recently upgraded, add-onChat lets you run an interactive chat room directly from your Web site. With a minimal amount of effort, you can have your users sign in to the chat room by typing in any screen name of their choosing and protecting it with a password so that only they can use that name.

Pretty much all browsers today are Java-enabled. The addonChat client uses a small Java applet application that seamlessly integrates to the participant’s browser. Once they sign in, they are presented with a new chat room window complete with little function icons and the chat window. The main window is the actual chat room that displays what everyone in the room is typing to each other. The area directly below is where you type in your messages and the area to the right is where you see the names of everyone who is participating in the chat room.

The features of addonChat are quite impressive in that you as the administrator can exercise total control of your participants. If anyone gets out of line, you can kick them out temporarily or ban them from ever coming back. The latter banishment works via a combination of keeping track of user IP addresses and placing cookies on their browsers. There’s also a bad-language filter that prevents someone from typing something obscene. You can edit and add the words you wish to ban.

Other features let you customize the chat room’s appearance such as font color and size. Participants can also choose from a variety of emoticons such as little smiling faces, and sound effects that can alert users to something being typed.

Participants can also send private messages to other users. Double clicking on a screen name opens a new little window into which you can send messages directly to the other person. Users can also choose to ignore other users or highlight them so that they stand out from the other participants.

AddonChat comes in a free version so you can check things out before you buy. It’s a nice way to get things started. If you decide this is something you want to pursue, you can upgrade to the Professional Edition, which goes for $80 a year. The company offers other versions as well as add-on modules that for example, display where each chat member is physically located. AddonChat works with any Java-enabled browser in Windows, Macintosh and Linux.

For more information, visit www.addonchat.com.

Craig Crossman is a national newspaper columnist writing about computers and technology. For more information, visit his Web site at www.computeramerica.com.

2010 McClatchy Tribune

Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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