From [[http://cpsquare.org CPsquare]], the community of practice on communities of practice.
Chat offers the ability to synchronously send and receive text messages to a group of people which has gathered in the same space for interaction. There are many variants but no dominant standard for chat. Examples range from several people who use a common Instant Message protocol to chat rooms with hundreds of people listening in to an IRC channel (using many different kinds of clients).
There are many different standards and types of chat are in use. Chat can be a free-standing tool or in conjunction others (like presence indicators and personal profiles) or as part of large platforms (such as Elluminate, Breeze or WebEx).
Uses in communities of practice
Because different protocols are in use, a community may need to make agreements regarding a standard protocol or client. Some of the uses and combinations of uses that we have seen:
- The IBM Global Services case describes how each community has its own chat channel. In many cases, people from outside the community can listen in or even ask a question, so a subject-specific chat channel is like a public water cooler. Although these communities meet in other venues, the chat may be the main way of staying in touch.
- A free-standing, public, language-specific IRC channel like irc://irc.freenode.net/#php can provide highly expert advice and where you must ask a question that's non-trivial and well-formed to receive an answer. A community that gathers around a free-standing IRC channel may also have email lists, conferences, web-boards, wikis and other venues with slower response times, different reach, and more persistence.
- Chat rooms can be used to augment or compete with presentations at a face-to-face conference. People in the audience can provide context for each other, look up related resources, or criticize what's being said.
- A chat room is a simple way of supporting telephone conversations, whether one-to-one or small group. Chat provides an ideal environment for taking notes that can then serve as a start on meeting notes.
- Scheduled chats using Twitter and a hashtag are fairly common now-adays. See Microblogging aggregator tools
- Together/apart, Synch/Asynch: Chat is primarily a synchronous tool, although a chat's history can be a useful resource after the fact.
- Interaction/publication: Chat is primarily an interaction tool, although publishing a chat transcripts using some other technology can extend its value.
- Individual/group: Instant messages are the individual or small-group version of chat, which can involve large groups.
- Post and Read Messages. Basic communication features where each person types a message in one box and all group messages appear interleaved in chronological order.
- A basic, very simple synchronous utility for many communities of practice.
- Room or channel select, private rooms.
- Allows people to have subject-specific or private conversations.
- Access groups that restrict participation to a specific group of people, whether they are present or not. A named group (where the group information is shared) is more convenient for this purpose than a list of individuals).
- Private Messages. Ability to send and receive private messages in the midst of a larger conversation.
- Sending a side message to one individual provides a way to "whisper" to someone without being heard by others.
- Having someone welcome late-comers to a chat (or a phone call that's supported by a chat, for that matter) can help keep a conversation on track.
- Avatars and bubble text. Iconic representation of individuals with text streaming from the icon for that individual.
- This is relevant when many people are in the community and trying to meet at the same time.
- Date-stamp all messages. Some chat systems show the time and date when the message was posted, and almost all store that with the posting.
- A time and date stamp can be very handy to figure out when an exchange took place, to decode when gaps occurred in the conversation, or to assess the pace in an exchange.
- Meeting friendly tools
- Easily record, save, and retrieve a transcript
- People who can't attend the synchronous event can have access to the discussion or the transcript can form the basis of meeting notes.
- For some communities a library of chat transcripts from previous sessions is evidence of activity and a passive education tool (people can see "how the community talks" without too much effort or having to be present).
- Log In/Out and ease of access. Ease of use and persistent, known identity.
- Useful to manage a profile associated with users so that they are recognizable each time they come to chat.
- Server Architecture / P2P. A centralized architecture potentially with a thin client interface but may also have a thick client interface. A peer to peer architecture or hybrid architecture to allow direct connection between individuals or groups to off load processing from the server.
- Useful for most communities, guaranteeing fast and simple startup. Useful in very large group environments where resources for the chat session support are scarce. Sometimes systems like this experience startup delays.
- Persistence. A chat window should persist until it's closed by the user.
- When using an instant messaging tool for chat, some protocols will sometimes drop you from the chat if you are inactive for a period of time.
Optional features that can increase comprehension
- Chat/discussion integration. Some systems do not distinguish between chat and discussion board: what you have is simply one ongoing conversation, in chat mode when people are present, in asynchronous mode when they are not.
- Groove, for example, has a chat interface that accompanies the user from tool to tool, providing an underlying "binding factor" across media and venues.
Infrastructure and system issues
- Platform compatibility. When using an instant messaging tool for chat, consider that IM protocols tend to be tool-dependent so that people who use AIM can't talk directly to people who use Yahoo! Messenger.
- A very local solution to community chat can be easily disrupted when it's necessary to accommodate the requirements of a new member.
- Firewalls and security. For many people, chat has an unsavory reputation and there are many occasions where a chat protocol or client is blocked by a firewall.
- Blockage by a firewall can take some effort to discover and it may take a concerted community effort to remove the blockage.
- KStoolkit page on Chat tools / instant messengers: http://www.kstoolkit.org/Instant+Messengers
- Instant messaging tools and Chatting tools are useful adjuncts to Telephony and teleconferencing tools whether one-to-one or in groups. The differences between these tools can be useful: for example, several people can talk "at once" on IM or Chat, while turn-taking is essential on the phone. Chat transcripts provide a useful first-draft of minutes, action check-lists, or just jottings for memory jogging.
- http://www.jabber.org/ for information about the protocol and the clients as http://xmpp.org/software/servers.shtml for information about Jabber servers.
- http://skype.com includes a solid instant message tool that scales to work as a group chat
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Relay_Chat Internet Relay Chat is a standard protocol that has many different http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_IRC_clients clients that can access an "IRC Channel".
- http://www.streamtext.net/ is a platform for real-time transcript production