Making 'Community' More Than a Buzzword
May 30, 2003
ChatSpace Community Server: A suite of tools focused primarily on real-time communication
Although e-mail was the original "killer app" of the Internet, the surge in instant messaging is proving that people love immediate feedback. With real-time communication, organizations can provide live support, hold virtual conferences, and host live moderated events.
Akiva's ChatSpace Community Server is a suite of tools focused primarily on real-time communication. The software promises not only functionality, but also integration between various communication channels, including instant messaging, live chat forums, and message boards -- all under the overall umbrella of a "community."
The ChatSpace server software is approximately 18 MB to download. Those who opt to install the free Microsoft SQL 2000 desktop server engine must factor in an additional 26 MB. Organizations will want to use the MSDE if they don't already own and intend to use MS SQL Server 7.0 or later, or Oracle 8.1.5 or later. The chosen database will be used for back-end ChatSpace operations.
Consequently, although the base ChatSpace install itself consumes less than 20 MB of disk space, the overall storage requirement will increase as the database grows with continued use.
Some caveats to note during the ChatSpace installation: If you do opt to install the free MSDE database, that install may run into troubles for its own reasons. It took five attempts to install MSDE on a review machine running Windows XP Pro. Ultimately, the install succeeded, but the reasons for the initial failures remained a mystery, and because ChatSpace downloads MSDE separately, the problems are likely unrelated to ChatSpace per se.
Also note that ChatSpace will not install on a machine with Microsoft Terminal Services server installed. However, many Windows servers have Terminal Services installed by default, and in the case of Windows XP Pro, there is no obvious way to uninstall Terminal Services. Disabling the service from the Windows Services administration tool then rebooting did the trick for us; however, this information could not be found in the ChatSpace documentation or the online knowledge base.
While the term "community" is something of a marketing buzzword these days, it is the best metaphor for thinking about ChatSpace. The suite makes the most sense when its integrated tools are used in service of a common theme.
Customer product support is an example of one such use. Toward this end, an organization can use the ChatSpace administration tools to build message boards and live chat forums in support of the product. In both venues, users can interact with one another informally, and the organization can provide official communications, perhaps with live representatives. Moderated discussions enable administrators to selectively engage in public or private communication, such as in a live chat event or a text conference with invited participants. The software supports multimedia, so live events can be accompanied by images, video, and audio.
Working with the ChatSpace administration tools is initially a bit obtuse, perhaps because the product fits into an unfamiliar niche, as compared to garden variety Web servers and mail servers. The suite has a comprehensive depth of functionality that takes time to master, from surface elements, including the look, feel, and behavior of communication spaces, to behind-the-scenes operations from logging to transcripts to security.
Making the most of ChatSpace means taking advantage of its integration between services; after all, other options are available (and perhaps better suited) for those who simply want to host a live chat (e.g., free IRC servers), Web-based message boards, or instant messaging (e.g., Jabber).
What ChatSpace offers that these do not is tight integration in look, feel, and operation. Visitors to a ChatSpace-hosted community can move from a message forum to a Web page that shows who else is viewing that page to a live chat with one of those participants and so on. ChatSpace's integrative strength becomes especially useful for one-to-many communications where an organization wants to open lines of communication with clients or customers. Considering the product's support for server clustering, unlimited simultaneous users, and $4,000 price tag, Akiva correctly recognizes that the strength of ChatSpace is best suited for an enterprise environment.Pros: Comprehensive feature set for several communications venues; tight integration between services; meets the needs of enterprise communities.
Cons: Installation poses some caveat; configuration and administration learning curve; high price tag makes this a difficult sell for smaller organizations that require less comprehensive integration.
Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss