Meebo Bar for Libraries

A lot of libraries use widgets on their pages to answer virtual reference questions. They use things like Meebo, Digsby, AIM, and the very cool Library H3LP.  Yet recently Meebo co-founder Seth Sternberg, one of the pioneers of widgets on the web, pretty much said that widgets suck. His argument was that widgets can’t be easily updated (you have to copy and paste in an entirely new widget) and that they take up a significant amount of screen real estate.

Enter the Meebo Bar. It’s a piece of javascript code that’s sits as a layer on top of a website.  This allows it to be on multiple pages so your widget is not just on your “ask a librarian” page or your homepage; it’s everywhere without taking up a bunch or room. In addition, it’s fully customizable so you can include your library’s Facebook page, posts from your Twitter stream, Flickr photos, YouTube videos, and more. Users can get help from a librarian and also connect with them on social media all from a single bar on any of the library’s pages.

For possible downsides, because it is all hosted on Meebo’s server it could be changed at anytime. They might decide one day to include ads on all their bars. Though I think their current model of opting into ads for a small cut of the revenue is working for them. But other than that it seems like it could be the next generation of service for libraries providing virtual reference to their members. I made a quick screencast demoing an example of what a library Meebo Bar could look like. If you want to play with one yourself, you can visit their website or see it in action over at Slate.

Is anyone currently using this? Would this be something that could be useful at your library?


Digsby for Reference

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about using Pidgin and Meebo for our IM Reference service.  They have worked fairly well and the service gets a lot of use, but there have been a few problems.  Pidgin would crash unexpectedly which was mildly annoying. The biggest problem though, was that users could leave messages when we were offline.  When we opened up the IM client, their questions would be there waiting for us with no contact information and no way to reach them.

Until now we just lived with it, but when I was writing my previous post on Pidgin I came across an article on LifeHacker.  It was about Pidgin, but in the comments a number of people discussed how they used a different program called Digsby to monitor their IM as well as social network accounts.  I downloaded it, tested it out for a couple of days and found it would likely work well for the library.


At the library we’ll probably only be using Digsby for IM to begin with, but I am pretty confident it will solve our problems.  When you’re offline, their IM widgets do not allow people to leave you offline messages.  Also, because the Digsby widgets and client is all one program (unlike our previous Meebo widgets and Pidgin chat client) it may be more stable.

We just implemented it on the library homepage so we’ll try it for a while.  Classes start Monday so we’ll see soon how well it works.


Connecting via video

chat with dino

My holiday break was a lot of fun. I received a web cam from my brother as a gift and was playing with it a lot. The screenshot above is one where I am video chatting with a dinosaur (it is actually my friend that has a bunch of goofy effects on his camera, but the dino effect was, of course, my favorite).

I hadn’t really gotten into using video on the web much before now.  I had fiddled around with Skype, and will likely do more of that in the future.  But now that Gmail makes it so easy (it is already in my personal email), and now that I have my own web cam, I hope to be doing a lot more experimenting with video.

My main hope is that it will allow me to stay better connected with friends and family.  My fairly tech-savvy dad already had a web cam and we were playing with them over break.  I look forward to bridging the distance gap between Vermont and Minnesota using this technology.  I can maybe even chat with my mom and ask her if the new curtains she made me are installed correctly.