Know any free chatroom software?
September 23, 2005 2:12 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone recommend a web-based chat system, preferably free?

I want to set up a web-based chat room for grad students, so that they can chat with each other while in class, about the material or whatever. These students are not techies, so chat applications like IM clients or IRC are suboptimal since they require the installation of extra software, and I just don't think they'd go to the trouble of installing them & learning how to use them. I want as much participation as possible.

I think something they can use with any browser would be great. Options like Yahoo Chat (among many others) require a registration step that I would like to avoid if possible.

Does anyone know of software, preferably free, I can set up on a server that would allow this? It doesn't need to be full-featured at all.

Barring that, what hosted Web chat rooms let people sign on with the least hassle?
posted by Brian James to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) lets you chat using any of the IM protocols and doesn't require installing the client software. Just make the account and login.
posted by junesix at 3:43 PM on September 23, 2005

Chatzy is a good one. And it's free.
posted by panoptican at 4:05 PM on September 23, 2005

You will find that there are various 'flavors' of web-based chat, based on the techniques used to achieve the appearance of a page updating in realtime. Of the top of my head, these are the major ones:
  1. Macromedia Flash / Shockwave - These can be rather friendly and painless to use, because the browser details matter less, but it still requires the flash plugin installed. Example: FlashChat
  2. Java applet - Same idea, but also requires a JRE installed and a browser plugin, which tends to make it less compatible than flash.
  3. Neverending page - These work by supplying a page of html to the browser that never ends - the browser thinks that there is always a bit more of the page coming. The page is designed so that the browser can do incremental rendering, and thus you see the updates as they come.This works very well because it achieves the look of real-time updates without needing any support from plugins. However, it can be tricky to get them working correctly with all browsers. Example: Chat Anywhere
  4. Periodically refreshing page - This is the most simple and compatible method. The page just refreshes once a second, or at some regular interval. It should work with any browser, but it's kind of clumsy because the page flashes constantly and updates aren't exactly real-time. Example: X7 Chat
Which one of these methods you choose will depend on your requirements and preferences. For ease of use, the Flash based ones are probably best, but make sure that everyone will have the flash plugin.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:35 PM on September 23, 2005

I realize you said "no IRC", but I think you meant "I don't want the users to have to install IRC clients". For the completely nontechnical people over at a message board I host, I have a "chat room" which is actually cgi:irc pointing at a semiprivate IRC server. I'd say 80% of the users have no idea that it's anything other than "web chat", and cgi:irc can be tied down to a specific channel on a specific server pretty easily. As long as you register the channel on your IRC network of choice you're all set.

Compared to cgi:irc, all of the web-only chat things I've tried have been ginormous hassles.
posted by mendel at 10:33 PM on September 23, 2005

posted by chrominance at 7:40 PM on September 24, 2005

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