Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Question of the Chat Room ...

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?


BDRichardson said...

I'm new, but I like what you've done here, quite a network you've created. Quite a quandary. If you can get away with free FB and it has almost the same features, maybe go for it. What benefits does the (chat) website have that FB doesn't?


PS: I think FB allows you to create groups of friends you can be visible to chat for...

Linda Bolton said...

I have used FB chat quite a bit, even with multiple people. It works just fine. Its easier for me to be there.

Wendy Jo said...

Personally, I like having a separate place to go and find my writer friends. I know David has suggested Google hangouts (or something like that. I get confused easily). Is this something we could also check out?

Lindzee said...

I agree with Wendy, I like having someplace different to go when I'm working.

Daniel Noyes said...

facebook chat works great. My local group really likes Google+ hangouts where you can use traditional chat functions or speak via webcam if you like. Have you considered asking for donations to cover the cost of the ning? Maybe people could donate throughout the year to help out there. Those are my thoughts.

Jessica L. Foster said...

Hmm I'm a pretty go with the flow kind of a girl, so while the facebook chat does feel a bit cumbersome, I'll get used to it. If it's free, then that's better over all. The only problem I can think of is the distractiveness of facebook, but self-control is important (as are distractions sometimes I think). As long as there is still someone to sprint and chat with while I write, I think I'll go with whatever. (My co-sprinters are some of my very most dear friends, as long as I still get to talk to them, I'm happy).

M. R. Buttars said...

I'm pretty new myself and haven't ever participated in a sprint. FB works fine for me. Also, have you heard of Skysa? It has a free bar you can create for your website and one of the apps for the bar is a free live chat. Here is the link if you are interested:

But, like I said, FB works as well.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Keep your thoughts coming, folks! We'd like as much input as we can get.

Heidi L. Murphy said...

I don't mind going with the flow as long as I figure out how to do the turning off the chat thingy seamlessly. I have a couple of acquaintances I don't want to dump but stalk me on FB so I usually don't have chat on, esp. when I'm trying to write.

If you put your work in a smaller window over FB, it shouldn't be too distracting. I'll have to try it.

Gussie said...

Are you chatting on facebook already? I'd have to befriend you first before I can chat with you, of course. Also, I'd have to scroll down through the facebook posts to find one that invites me to sprint, right? It sounds complicated. Is google+ easier?

Jayrod Garrett said...

I haven't been around much lately, just cause I've been busy with school and other things, however I would much prefer to see us move over to Google+ to do our chatting as opposed to trying to do it on Facebook. For me I am more easily able to keep my conversations straight in the different chats.

Does Google+ have this feature? I think it would be a more profession method of approaching this for us as writers. That is just me though. I use G+ for business and writing. Facebook is really for friends.

Jennifer Jensen said...

Like Heidi, I also stay invisible to chat when I'm on FB. I'm on Google Plus sometimes, and that's only writing stuff, so I'd prefer that or the Ning (although I wholly vote for free!) I'm only there sometimes, but DON'T like the idea of any sort of live chat - I want to write and pipe in sometimes, not look at or listen to everyone. We wouldn't get much sprinting done!

Good luck on figuring this all out. And kudos to you group leaders for all your work!