Dear Members of iWriteNetwork,
Many of you have noticed that we've started experimenting with the chat feature on Facebook for our sprint sessions. I'd like to take a minute to explain why, explain how it works, and then open the floor for discussion.
IWriteNetwork is a nonprofit organization. We offer two free online workshops per year, and we offer two live conferences per year - a smaller one in January, and a larger, two-day conference in July. For each of these events, we strive to keep the cost as low as possible, charging just enough to cover expenses. Our desire is to provide high-quality instruction and a supportive system for writers without breaking anyone's bank. To this end, we are looking at ways to run the organization as inexpensively as possible--hence why we shut down the website, for instance.
We decided to try holding our chats on the Facebook page because Facebook allows us nearly the same features as the Ning chat, but Facebook is free where the Ning ... is not.
Several of our members have been playing with the Facebook chat and have questions about how it would work, should we choose to go that route permanently. I'll explain, and then we'd like to hear from you in the comment section of this blog post.
How Do We Use Facebook Chat?
Let's say I am ready to write and want to initiate a sprint. I would start by going to the iWriteNetwork Facebook page. I would post something like, "Hey, I'd like to chat. Who would like to chat with me?" If you saw my post and would like to chat with me, you would just reply, "Me! Me!"
I would then see you say that, and I would go over to the right-hand side of my screen, where all the people who are currently available to chat show up with little green lights next to their names. I would see your name, I would click on your name, and up would pop a chat box. You and I can start chatting with each other, just like we do on iWrite.
Then along comes Cindy, and she wants to join us. She leaves a comment in the trail - "I would like to sprint too!" So I go up to the top of the chat box, where, in the blue bar at the top, are three icons. The center one looks like a gear, or a daisy, depending on your mood. I would click on that, and up comes the option to add friends. I type in Cindy's name, and presto! Cindy is added to the chat. You can add Cindy to the chat too, if you want - it doesn't have to be me.
We can add as many friends in to the chat as we want to add.
How Do We Get Out of the Chat?
Now, let's say that Cindy needs to leave the chat, but she's still on Facebook. She doesn't want to see us popping up on her screen all the time - we, in our awesomeness, are too distracting. She would go into the icons there on top of her chat box and click on the blue daisy-gear-thing. She would click on "turn off chat for ..." whoever initiated the chat. This way, she can be on Facebook, but we won't be popping up all the time.
What If We Don't Want to Chat with All of Facebook?
But then, here's this ... what if Cindy wants to chat with us, but she doesn't want to chat with anyone else? She doesn't want her old college roommate popping in to complain about her latest romance gone sour. Cindy would handle it like so. She would go down to the bottom left corner of her screen - the whole screen, not the chat box - where there is a light gray tool bar with another gear-daisy-thing. She would click on that, and up comes the option "advanced settings." She would click on that, and then choose "turn on chat for only some friends." This allows her to chat with whomever she chooses, and to her other less-fortunate friends, she still appears unavailable to chat.
What If the Chat Window's Too Small to Read?
If you don't like the little chat box and want to see it bigger, click on the gear-daisy-thing (which James now informs me is called the cogwheel) and choose "full conversation." This will pop up the chat window to about the same size as how we view it on the Ning. If I keep the chat box little, I can hit "enter" to post. If the chat box is big, it's automatically set up to where you have to hit the "reply" button to post, and that slows things down. However, there's a little box that you can click that says "press enter to send." If you click that box, it works just the same as the little chat window.
Facebook's Distracting ...
Now, what if you don't want to see the ads and stuff on the sides of your chat window? Try this. I haven't downloaded it myself, but I'm told it will probably take care of that little issue.
Are We Using Facebook Chat Forever, Then?
We haven't made a final decision yet. We would like to ask our members to experiment with the Facebook chat. It took us a little while to get used to using the Ning, and I'm sure there's a learning curve with the FB chat as well, but we'd like to give it a good try.
Do You Have Other Suggestions?
We would also like to hear from you, if you know of any free or very-close-to-free chat sites we could use that will enable several people to be on at once. If everyone really hates the FB chat and we can't find another good site, we can retain the Ning, but again, our goal here is to keep costs down and to keep providing you with free or low-cost instruction, so that's our focus, in addition to keeping the chats running smoothly.
Okay, I'm opening up the floor for comments. Have you used the FB chat, and what were your thoughts? Did my explanation above of how to change the settings address the concerns you might have had?