March 5, 2009 10:34 AM   Subscribe

Can you help me find a solution for my chatting needs?

I need a private chatroom for a smallish group of people to use on an irregular basis. It needs to be:

-- Actually a chat room. It needs to just be there so people can pop in and out, it can't be an invite based, on the fly thing.
-- Private. It shouldn't be listed in directories, and there should be a password to keep the riffraff out.
-- Easy to set up for both me and the users. Preferably it is just a website that I can configure for a private room, but we can install something if we absolutely have to.
-- Stable both in terms of its own uptime and individual connectivity.
-- Mac-friendly, but not Mac-only.
-- Free. This last bit is somewhat optional. But free would dramatically be preferred.

Things we've tried and rejected:
-- Group Chats via our IM clients (we use AIM as our network on various clients Audium, Trillian, etc). This is rejected because it's not permanent, and because we have a lot of trouble actually getting invitations to work with some people's chat clients.
-- Meebo. This showed promise, but we have a lot of trouble with the way that it handles links, and the fact that if you exceed the line length, it simply fails to send the message without even creating an error, so you have no idea it didn't go through. It also seems to kick people out unexpectedly.
-- PHPFreeChat. Big stability issues in terms of keeping some key people in the chat for any length of time. Plus, it would show logged out people as logged in, and not show people who were logged in. Very strange, very not good.
-- Campfire. I was aiming for Campfire via Basecamp, but it seems like in Basecamp, if the owner of the Campfire account isn't logged in, the chat room disappears. If they log in directly to Campfire then it appears, it seems, though. The main problem with Campfire is the cost. Their free alternative isn't sufficient for our needs because of the 4 chatter limit -- I'd prefer a free alternative if I can find one. This is my current best prospect, though.
posted by jacquilynne to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
IRC seems like the obvious solution.
posted by Xianny at 10:38 AM on March 5, 2009

IRC. It's not the most user friendly beast around (slashnickservwhatheheck!) but it does all the things you need -- relatively painless when used through Pidgin.
posted by wrok at 10:40 AM on March 5, 2009

I agree with Xianny, IRC meets all of your requirements. There are IRC clients for all OSs, you can make channels both private and password-protected, if you register the channel, in whatever server you choose, it'll continue to exist (and it'll keep the settings you have set) even if no one is inside, etc.
posted by Memo at 10:42 AM on March 5, 2009

Response by poster: I might be able to get my users up and running on IRC, but my memories of IRC are of connection instability and lots of room invasions, even on nominally private/password protected rooms. Has anything changed on that front?
posted by jacquilynne at 10:47 AM on March 5, 2009

If you have your own website where you can install things, you can set up X7 chat. I use it for pretty much the same thing. The installation on your end is fairly easy, and from their it's web-based so users don't have to install anything. You can do multiple rooms if you need to, but if not a single room works fine too.

I keep mine private simply by not listing the URL anywhere. Theoretically "riff-raff" could get into the public rooms if they knew/guessed the URL, but mine's been up for over a year and there haven't been any intrusions. But if you want more security than that you can make a room "private" as well, in which case the room name essentially acts as the password—it doesn't show up on the room list, and users have to know the room name to get in.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:08 AM on March 5, 2009

...from their end it's web-based...
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:10 AM on March 5, 2009

Nthing IRC as the answer. Run a private IRC server without any interconnects to efnet and the like, and your connectivity and room invasion crap won't be an issue.

or open a channel on and give a few trusted people Ops.
posted by jrishel at 11:22 AM on March 5, 2009 is exactly what you are looking for.
posted by jgee at 11:37 AM on March 5, 2009

posted by GuyZero at 11:44 AM on March 5, 2009

Response by poster: Skype's bookmarkable group chat function might actually work -- I'll look into it some more.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:57 AM on March 5, 2009

You could also buy a hosted Jabber server. We did that and it wasn't expensive. Truth be told, however, it's been so long since I worked on this I don't recall the company. I found them listed under
posted by tcv at 5:51 PM on March 5, 2009

You want XMPP/Jabber based chat. Preferably ejabberd. I've kept 2 ejabberd servers running with year+ long uptimes. Once I ran one on a cheap IRC hosting account (like $5 a month). You can use (Pandion, Adium, iChat, Meebo, Pidgin, LinQ, JWChat (web)).

There's a slightly steep learning curve in getting it setup, it's written in erlang, a VM designed for telecommunication switches (think Java, but designed to run forever, you can even upgrade code while running). I swear, once you get it up with a few admin users and create rooms and make moderators or owners. Rock solid and easy.

Death to IRC!
posted by zengargoyle at 8:27 PM on March 5, 2009

Openfire is a fantastic Jabber server that runs on Mac/Linux/Windows. Fairly simple to set up and use, and very stable.
posted by Xuff at 4:10 PM on March 6, 2009

A left-field suggestion - use Yammer. Set yourself up as a mini-company on Yammer with a mini-account and domain name. Give the relevant people email addresses with that domain name, sign up on Yammer, download the app and voila, a 24-7 secure chatroom you can "step" into at any time, and only the registered users can see the last messages.
posted by almostwitty at 5:47 AM on March 12, 2009

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