Private chat system for 2 writers
March 19, 2018 8:38 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I communicate over chat a lot, and often do a lot of character or world building or plotting. We like to save these chat conversations to a Google doc for reference later. Our current chat system is lacking--suggestions needed!

Our current chat is just a browser-based chat that's part of a larger site not specifically dedicated to chatting; we're just both on the site and it allows private channels so that's what we use. However, if I accidentally refresh the page or close it, the chat history is gone and I can no longer copy and save what we have. I usually remember to save before closing (and it warns me so it's hard to refresh or close accidentally, though it's happened before) but not always. I'm sure there has to be a better system, though.


1) Copy-pastes easily into Google docs. This rules out Facebook, which adds in a bunch of unnecessary space and is hard to select more than five messages back. The current chat system we use transfers like this:

[timestamp] [username1]: blah blah blah
[timestamp] [username2]: bluh bluh bluh
[timestamp] [username1]: bleh bleh bleh

I would prefer something like this. I don't require a timestamp (in fact that just clutters things--though I like to have a timestamp while chatting), really just a username (so I knew who said what) and the accompanying text.

2) Chat history, ergo if I close the chat, I can open it again and still have the past messages. I don't need this to keep forever (in fact I would kind of prefer it didn't)! Just as far back as, say, 24 hours.

3) Notification sound + some visual indication. Our current chat has a little bloop and the browser tab says "New message." I would prefer something a little more visible because I often miss this, but at minimum it needs to do what our current chat does.

4) I need to be able to select just parts of the text and paste it somewhere. I don't want something that saves the entire chat log for that session or whatever, because we often have a lot of irrelevant stuff before or after what I want to save.

5) Must be available and work well on PC, on Windows 7. This is how we do 95% of our conversations.

6) Opens quickly and easily. Currently all I have to do is start typing the first few letters of the site I currently use, and since I use the chat so often it'll go straight to the chat and open my channel. If it's something that takes time to open up the first time I turn on my computer, but can then open quickly any time after that, that's not ideal but acceptable.

Things I would like but do not require:

1) Something that can live in the corner of my screen rather than take up a whole page would be really great. I would sacrifice all of the below likes for something that does this (and fills the other requirements, of course).

2) Something that is highly visible when there's a new message, e.g. a little pop up in the corner of the screen. Even better is if it stays until I dismiss it.

3) Both PC and mobile. I don't need to be able to copy from mobile easily (as long as I can later go and do it on the PC) but it would be nice to be able to use the chat on the rare occasion I don't have access to a PC.

4) Date stamps I can toggle on and off or some other way to see date stamps while chatting, but not have them in the copy-pasted/saved text.

Things I don't care about:

1) Whether it's browser based or a program. Either works for me (though I suspect some of the features I would like, though don't need, would only work as a program).

2) How many other people are using it. I only need it for my partner and I so I don't care if it's super obscure and none of my other friends will ever use it.

3) If it has text formatting or fancy emojis or stickers or whatever. I really only need basic text and nothing else. I suppose italics might be useful but I'm used to just doing /this/ to indicate italics so I don't particularly need it.

4) Whether or not the site/program is specifically dedicated to chatting. If you know a site that's for some other purpose but has a super good private chat system, let me know.

5) Privacy in terms of security/encrypted messages or whatever. We don't talk about anything that would be dangerous for someone to get a hold of, and if someone wants to put into the effort to hack into my chat logs to see our typo-filled ramblings about a bunch of gay people bumbling with their feelings then honestly they're welcome to. I just don't want it to be public/have anyone wander in.

I'm sure there's got to be something that fits my needs. Suggest away!
posted by brook horse to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Google hangouts, which is what they call chat now. I do like the desktop apps for it, just for having it be its own window and alert settings.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:43 AM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A slack between the two of you? There are a number of backup options.
posted by jeather at 8:50 AM on March 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This feels a lot like Slack - you may find with Slack your need to export it somewhere else goes down as it's organized to have these kind of roaming discussions on themes.
posted by notorious medium at 8:51 AM on March 19, 2018

Best answer: Definitely Slack, can't live without it
posted by masquesoporfavor at 9:09 AM on March 19, 2018

Response by poster: Ooh, after playing around with it, Slack fits all my requirements and seems almost perfect! Only one question: is there a way to have it as a small chat in the corner of my screen? Resizing the window doesn't work because of the sidebar, and it doesn't seem like there's any way to turn that off.
posted by brook horse at 9:19 AM on March 19, 2018

The free version of slack will erase old messages after 10,000 messages or something like that. Hangouts is what you want.
posted by twoplussix at 9:47 AM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

For writing, my writing friend and I just type directly in a shared Google doc at the top or bottom of the relevant document, and through comments on the sides. When we're done , I delete non relevant chatty parts and keep what I like in its own section with a header.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:54 AM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Google Hangouts (formerly Gchat) keeps a record of all your conversations in the chat box (to the point that I find this feature annoying - why does it try to make me feel like I am always picking up where the previous conversation left off?).

Also, Whatsapp has a web version - I downloaded the Windows 7 app but works too. It saves a history of everything and you can easily copy and paste. Each individual message isn't timestamped, but it otherwise seems like it could work for you.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:00 AM on March 19, 2018

If you find that Slack eventually murders the shit out of your computer’s memory (or whatever the hell it does to make everything slow down or freeze), you might try Basecamp.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:23 AM on March 19, 2018

At least some IRC clients can be configured to automatically log every chat session to a TXT file, which you could then edit after the fact, I guess. ChatZilla for Firefox used to do this before Quantum came along and kicked it to the curb. I used it for a kind-of-similar purpose to what you describe. I switched to HexChat, which is free and open-source, and it appears that it might be able to log sessions (see "irc_logging"). What I *know* HexChat can do is:
- retain presets for servers and channels to log into upon program start
- retain (by default) the last stuff you said in the channel upon program start
- be minimized/resized a la a Windows web browser
- give you some sort of notifications (although exactly how granular your control over them is, I don't know)
- work well on Windows 7.

When my partner and I have need of it, we just create a new one-shot channel on the server …and IIRC it's definitely possible to create/register a permanent channel, though it's been a long time since I've thought about that and couldn't say whether it's easy or advisable.

I don't know whether you can copy and paste directly out of the chat window in HexChat, but based on my experience with other IRC clients, I'd be surprised if you couldn't.

In terms of the commands and what-not, IRC is not as scary as it looks. Feel free to MeMail me if you like.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:30 AM on March 19, 2018

Best answer: It's sort of hacky, but I use Slack for the exact purpose that you're describing, and I resize it until the chat part is the size I want, and then just position it so that the sidebar is off my screen. If you use Slack in a browser window, this will apparently hide the sidebar, though I've not tested it myself.
posted by mishafletch at 11:47 AM on March 19, 2018

You can chat in Google docs! At least I could in a spreadsheet last week.
posted by TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln at 11:50 AM on March 19, 2018

Discord is free Slack that never deletes your messages--you can try that. But there's no lightweight corner of the screen version, sorry.
posted by peppercorn at 2:29 PM on March 19, 2018

I use an app called Viber for exactly -- like, literally exactly -- this. My writing partner and I used to use AIM and it was perfect and this is the closest sub we found. Slack and Hangouts didn't work for me because I didn't want to leave those browser windows open all the time (a lot of the time, I needed to be able to have the chat window pop up over Word so they were essentially open and in front of my face at the same time).
posted by Countess Sandwich at 4:49 PM on March 19, 2018

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