Engaging with your blog readers will transform one-off site visitors into valuable regulars, and evangelists for your cause. By adding instant messaging chat to your posts you can transform the usual, static comments section of your blog into a far more dynamic, personalized experience. Meebo Rooms makes it easy to get started.
Let's face it, blogging is all about community, and starting up a two-way stream of communication. It isn't enough to fire and forget, sending your latest post out there onto the web, and leaving it at that. If you want to succeed as a blogger, you are going to need to make sure that you engage with readers at every available opportunity.
And the opportunities are growing every day. Whether you host live web tv shows and speak directly to your audience, create your own social network or hold open audio discussions, the key point is to become part of the community you have helped to build, rather than standing above it.
One really easy way to do that is by adding instant messaging chat functionality to your website. For while not everyone feels comfortable speaking in a live conference, there are few people that will feel too shy to get involved in a text-based chat. Until now, though, adding chat capabilities has been a bit of a headache, more often than not requiring some hard coding behind the scenes.
Meebo Rooms just made the process a whole lot easier. This newly launched service gives you the opportunity to create your own chatroom as an embeddable web widget that you can easily plug into your blog.
This is a great way to let your site visitors interact with you, and each other, sharing their thoughts as they read through your latest post. Furthermore, as the widget has the ability to play several types of media files, including videos from many of the more popular video sharing services, your site visitors will never be short of something to talk about.
In my full review of the service, I talk you through the simple process of getting your very own chatroom embedded into your blog, website or social networking profile.
Meebo Rooms is the latest addition to the existing range of Meebo services, which include a totally web-based instant messaging tool, with support for all of the major IM networks; and MeeboMe, a widget that lets you chat with your site visitors one-on-one in a site-embedded IM window.
In many ways Meebo Rooms is an extension of this latter service, given that it provides you with a simple way to interact with your site visitors by plugging a simple widget into the code of your blog or website.
But while MeeboMe facilitates individual, private discussions with one or more site visitors, Meebo Rooms opens up the conversation to anyone that happens to be on your site. So while MeeboMe is an ideal solution for customer or tech support, for instance, Meebo Rooms is better suited to providing an additional community feature to your blog.
Creating a chat room couldn't get much easier, and will take you somewhere in the region of sixty seconds, unless you have a really hard time making decisions. You can create a room in one of two ways: either from the main Meebo Rooms homepage, or via one of the rooms embedded into the Meebo website.
Either way, once the process begins you are asked to take some simple decisions in the customization of your chat room.
Your Meebo Room can be made to fit any dimensions you'd care to enter, styled with a number of color schemes, and branded with your logo. Furthermore, you can decide to include, or switch off, the addition of a video player, which will allow users to share the videos they are watching - along with photos from Flickr - with the rest of the room. This is as simple as typing the URL of the media file into the main chat window. Doing so automatically loads the file into the selection available for users to choose from.
The first step is to give your chat room a name, a description and some tags to make it easier for people to find your chat room from the Meebo Rooms website. You then choose an icon which will appear in the top left of the chat window, either selecting one from a handful of presets, or uploading your own:
Next you can further customize the chat room by deciding the color or dimensions and color scheme that you want to use. As you click on the different options, a preview window shows you how the finished chat room will look to your users.
It's good that, in addition to the presets, you are able to set the exact dimensions of your chat room, as this gives you the flexibility to fit it into an exact space in the layout of your blog or web-page. If this isn't so important, however, you can choose from one of three simple default settings:
Once you have decided on which features, dimensions and color scheme best suit your needs, it is simply a matter of clicking on the 'create your room' button, and you will be given a chunk of code to embed into your website. You literally copy and paste this code into the position you would like your chat room to appear, and it will be published as soon as your post goes live.
This is a nice advancement in the world of web widgets, which continue to make progress in their capabilities almost every month. While early web widgets, not so long ago, focused on delivering a single, simplified application to your blog, Meebo Rooms brings a relatively complex service to the format, making it as easy to create a chat room as it is to share a YouTube video.
When embedded in your site, like the example in this post, your Meebo Room has a pleasantly minimalist look and feature-set, but still manages to pack in some key features. You are told how many people are currently in the chat room, and can click on any individual to either send them a private message, or block their messages to you.
As is standard with other web-chat applications, you can also change your 'handle' from the default 'guest' to anything you like, by clicking directly on your onscreen name. This opens up the following dialogue box, where you can give yourself a different nickname:
Beyond the basics one of the features that really sets Meebo Rooms apart is its ability to share media files with other chat participants. If you want to share your Flickr sets or YouTube and MetaCafe videos, it is as simple as pasting the URL of the media file into the chat window. This will then add the item you selected to the library of media available to all live users.
Unfortunately, there is no way to watch the videos in sync with other viewers, which would really bring discussions to the next level, but nevertheless, this is an nice addition considering the fact that Meebo Rooms is a simple, free tool. Perhaps this functionality will be added at a later date.
Another feature that adds value to your chat room is the ability to effectively syndicate it to other websites. If somebody likes the look of your chat room, and finds it to be a particularly lively or useful resource, they can click on a 'copy this room button':
This is a great incentive to promote and sustain discussion and conversation within your site, as the more people that embed a copy of your chat, the wider your potential audience, and the broader the discussion-base. With your chat room networked on a number of sites, the visitors from each destination can interact with one another, and this provides an interesting and fresh way for blogs and bloggers to interact with one another.
Again, to plug a copy of your chat room into their websites, all visitors have to do is copy a simple block of code and place it where they would like the room to appear:
If they would rather set up their own room however, another button featured on each embedded chat room will take them directly through the process of creating their own from scratch:
As such, Meebo Rooms are inherently viral - the focus is on spreading the technology around as much and as easily as possible, so that users don't even have to visit the Meebo website, or sign up to a single service, to make use of the tool. That is indeed good forward-thinking on the part of Meebo, and obviously makes sound business sense, given that brief ads are placed between the videos shared by users.
In addition to the website-embedded chat rooms enabled by Meebo Rooms, there is also an online destination, with featured rooms laid out like a channel guide. Here you will find chat rooms dedicated to all kinds of brands, companies, websites and recording artists, each with their own dedicated following and themed media:
Clicking through to one of the rooms brings up a slightly more enhanced version of the Meebo chat interface, with the ability to enter a full-screen mode, invite friends via email, become a member of Meebo and format your text with a choice of colors and formatting options.
Clicking on the 'Become a Member' button brings up a simple dialogue box that will let you join Meebo in a matter of seconds. One of the things I love about this service is the fact that there is no pressure to do so at all. Should I wish to, I can go to the Meebo website, create a room, and embed it on my blog without even having registered for an account.
However, there are benefits for those that do have an existing account, or decide to sign up for one.
One great feature is the ability to add your chat room to your Meebo buddy-list. This effectively adds your chat room to your list of friends as if it were one of your online contacts. In this way you can monitor activity in your chat room, as every time someone posts a message, it is routed to your Meebo account. This is a nice addition, as even the best intentioned people are going to have a hard time sitting on a static web-page all day patiently waiting for visitors to come and chat.
Non-members are further catered to with the option to send out emails to friends, to invite them to come and participate in the chat, and this option is further reinforced by the prominent display of the Meebo URL for the room you are currently visiting.
As such, those looking to tap into an existing community of themed rooms can make use of this online destination. However, the typical blogger looking to build community is more likely to take advantage of the embedded version of Meebo Rooms, given that it will allow you not only to host the chat from your own domain, but also better filter the type of people taking part in your online discussions.
As Meebo IM is popular with teenagers and the younger MySpace crowd, the novelty of the online destination may soon wear off for those past high-school age.
This is an example of a live chat room created in a matter of seconds at the Meebo Rooms website. Please feel free to make use of it, and indeed to embed it in your own blog to continue the discussion from there. I look forward to catching up with you:
Meebo Rooms provides you with a very easy way to get a chat room up and running on your website in the space of sixty seconds. This simple but effective chat room can leverage user's existing Instant Messaging accounts, or equally let a first time user get up and running without having to sign up at all.
This is a great addition to the options available for engaging and communicating with your site visitors beyond the comments section of your blog. Adding live chat to a blog post, or to your sidebar, gives your readers the chance to both interact with you, and with one another. Whether you want to conduct a live Q & A, or just give your fledgling community a means to discuss your latest post in realtime, Meebo Rooms may well prove a useful service.
Furthermore, given that Meebo Rooms offers support for online video and photos, all your users have to do is paste a URL into the chat for the linked media file to load into an easy to use player. This means that even when the initial excitement of reading your post has died down, there are still plentiful reasons for users to stick around.
The fact is that loyal readers make for your best marketing strategy, and the greater the chance of community interaction, the greater the chance there is of building up a loyal readership.
Meebo Rooms isn't perfect - it would be nice to see the addition of synchronized video viewing, for instance, which is not possible at the moment, or the ability to embed a live video widget like Ustream.TV or Operator11.com next to the chat.
Nevertheless, there seem to be few bugs and no noticeable delay in the updating of the chat, which suggests that this is a reliable, well-built platform.
In short this is a good indication of how far web widgets have come in a short space of time, making it super-easy for anyone to host their own chat rooms regardless of their technical ability.
See you in the chat room.
If you want to read more about Meebo Rooms, you might like to check out the following links:
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Originally written by Michael Pick for Master New Media and originally published as: "Embeddable Chat Room Allows You To Directly Engage Your Site Readers And Your Instant Messenger Contacts At Once: Meebo Rooms"