Chat > Metamorphosis > Live Support

Posted September 22nd, 2005 by Mike Cherim

On my company’s main website,, I decided to implement a new feature using an earlier version of Chategory, a PHP-powered chat application, and a little imagination. The feature: “Live Tech Support.” Less “chat,” more business. No longer is it put to use as a social tool, but now as a tool to help visitors, I’m hoping this’ll be a good usage of this web software. I’m calling it GreenMethods Live.

I have had a copy of Jonathan Fenocchi’s first build of the application. I used it as a test bed so to speak on this site, as an extension called Chat Beast. There I played with it a bit, made a bunch of modifications, and started toying with the idea of using it in another capacity. I mean, really, for chat I have MSN and AIM and others so I didn’t need “chatting” software. Still, I downloaded it… it looked cool. And it’s often surprising what one can make. (I once contemplated making a water feature/flower and herb garden out of an old hot tub so I’m not real familiar with limitations to imagination.)

Chategory is meant to serve the webmaster in one of two ways:

  1. Its default configuration is a stand-alone application designed to be set-up, configured, and deployed as is.
  2. Its other life is as a “barebones” application designed to be flexible enough to include it — using server-side includes, of course — into an existing site.

In both of my usages I kept it as a standalone program. It just seems better that way, but I can see over the fence to the other side and see value in both forms. I like it as a stand-alone. It’s quite compact and pretty lightweight (which isn’t critical because the page doesn’t reload in its entirety during sessions anyway — just the contents of the “Chat Box” or “Questions & Answers” box as I call it now).

I modified it yet again, even more extensively this time, and tied it into the as a regular feature, and have fully included in the visible and hidden site navigation. I also made a “Attendant Status” file plug-in. I’m curious to how it’ll go over. Hopefully I won’t be an attendant to nothing: waiting and waiting, always available but never used. We’ll see. The industry that the GreenMethods serves isn’t as progressive as some in this world of computers and the internet. Many are farmers and greenhouse growers. They live a different life than your typical computer geek (the likes of which I have become in a way). They have a different passion which drives them. Many work long days and rarely have the time for such nonsense as the internet. They do require support, though, so this could be/should be useful to them.

I’m not expecting miracles. For the same industry I have created two bulletin boards. The first was a ProBoards. We ended up with maybe 150 members out of the thousands that were notified of its availability. A big disappointment, to say the least, as I know first hand what can be gained from a community of like-minded individuals. This would have, could have, been an extremely useful community resource. It didn’t happen like that, though. Did I learn my lesson? Hell, no. I made a second bulletin board using web software by Invision Power Boards. Of the 150 original members, even after being contacted twice, only 60 or so joined the new community. Over the course of nearly a year, seeing some 5000 new site visitors, the membership numbers grew to barely over 100 — never reaching the membership numbers of the original board. Depressing it was, especially since it was quite clear to me what they were giving up in terms of sheer self-help value. If you had any idea how much private consultation we do you’d understand what I understand: The (biocontrol/IPM) industry desperately needs to begin coming together and talking about these things together. The collective knowledge out there is impressive, but it’s so fragmented that it is unfortunately only self-serving those in the know. Everyone else is SOL and has to face a considerable learning curve. It’s like a library with a million books and a million doors. Each door leads to one book and can allow access to only one person at a time.

I have discussed this with others. They agree, the ones who understand the value of community forums. But all have come to the same conclusion: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” So, in the case of GreenMethods Live and its chat-ability, only time will tell. I threw it against the wall… let’s see if it sticks.

3 Responses to: “Chat > Metamorphosis > Live Support”

  1. Robert F. responds:
    Posted: September 23rd, 2005 at 10:47 pm

    Things like this is why I love open source. I had once the idea floating in my head for tech support usage, but never pursued it, and doubt I could have done a better job. Very nice, I must say I really am a fan of your designs.

    (Maybe some of that could be put to use with Chategory, eh?)

    Glad Chategory is getting usage. This is one of our goals with Chategory 2 is to make it very easy to make Chategory just the way you want it. Chategory will still be available stand alone and will work out of the box, but we are going to make integrating it into websites even easier. And, hopefully improve the codebase even more so as to make great software based on Chategory even easier to develop (Aka: Improve the API). Excellent job!

  2. Benjamin Jones responds:
    Posted: November 1st, 2005 at 11:07 am

    A very friendly site. Have a nice day!

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