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.
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?
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.
We use Pidgin at the reference desk to monitor our meebo widgets and IM accounts, so I was glad to see that the latest version fixed a number of bugs. Pidgin tended to crash once or twice a day which wasn’t devastating, but it was still pretty annoying. I guess nothing is perfect. Anyway, I hope this release is more stable and there are less crashes.
Now, if Meebo could add just a little more customization ability to its widgets, our IM reference would be right where I want it. It is a little annoying that the widget says to leave an offline message. When users do, they do not leave a way to contact them so there is no way to get back to them and answer their question. Someday…