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Summary:

For some of us old fogies who grew up using bulletin boards and forums on closed online services, online chat has always held a special allure. Remember, it was chatting that proved to be the killer application for AOL. Yet somehow the chat phenomenon didn’t quite […]

For some of us old fogies who grew up using bulletin boards and forums on closed online services, online chat has always held a special allure. Remember, it was chatting that proved to be the killer application for AOL. Yet somehow the chat phenomenon didn’t quite translate as well on the open web, mostly because the implementations were kludgy and the software was too slow.

Still, instant messaging and lately Twitter-styled short messages have only become more popular. At the other extreme, we have Google trying to build immersive communication environments with the launch of Lively. Between those two new communication methodologies, however, there lies a third way.

For the past couple of days I have been playing around with a new web service called Firef.ly, which adds chat and avatars to any site on the web. It’s instantaneous like Twitter, yet is localized to a web page and allows for customization through the use of avatars.

The service, which was developed by Billy Chasen and is likely to go into beta sometime today, is the creation of NY-based Betaworks, who describe it as a real-time social messaging system. I know of many people that have used it and found it to be a better service than what’s offered by some of its rivals like Yaplet.

By adding a tiny bit of Javascript code, any site can become chat enabled. (You need a Flash plugin installed in your browser as well.) If you want to chat about, say, the L.A. earthquake, you go to a page, start typing, and your comments show up on a layer that seems to float above the page. Others can respond in real time.

People conversing are seen on screen either as avatars or a simple mouse pointers. The service also provides a timeline of the conversation, allowing you to navigate through the entire thread. That’s possible because the company stores these conversation threads on Amazon’s S3 service. (You can download and try it here.)

The comments can be posted on a web site; they can also be sent to your Twitter account and be broadcasted to your Twitter stream. This integration with Twitter could result in Flash Mobs versions of a conversation in which people converge on a story and talk about it amongst themselves before moving onto something else.

I like the idea, but I’m not sure how this translates into a business. Perhaps the company can charge publishers for its service. The Huffington Post is one of 300 web publishers that have been participating in a private alpha test of Firef.ly in the last two months, the company says.

  1. pretty freakin’ cool idea and execution. I can see this getting huge. It was also really fun to play with.

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  2. Om,

    I like the concept, though I found it difficult to establish a dialogue of any sort. The bulletin boards of the past were very useful in their simplicity, and Firefly may be a little too much “gee whiz”.

    I’d use it, but I think it needs some work.

    Best,

    Curtis

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  3. The problem with these type of chat applications (I’m pretty sure GeeSee did this a couple of years ago), is that it relies on having at least two strangers on a web page, at the same time, willing to chat about the same thing, which really narrows the potential of such an app.

    Even if you manage to get enough people on the site, unlike a bulletin board, you won’t benefit from user generated content in the sense of SEO gains.

    Pretty tough obstacles.

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  4. and another thing to potentially slow down a f*ng web page…

    you know, the funny thing.. akamai and other cdns have made a biz in trying to speed up a site’s delivery.. and these apps simply slow the crap down…

    thanks god for apps like adblock+!!!

    peace

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  5. Wow. This looks really good / useful. Will definitely look at testing it on our site. Have been on the look out for some time for a good implementation of chat. Thanks for a great find.

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  6. It’s kinda fun when you actually see people chatting. but, it is awkward to have any real conversation. and, where did it get its name from??? http://webpoet.wordpress.com/2008/08/01/why-firefly/

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  7. [...] The company first tasted success when it sold Summize, an early entrant into the real-time search market, to Twitter in July 2008 for a reportedly big stake in the San Francisco-based company. Since then Betaworks has launched and subsequently spun out URL-shortener Bit.ly, which ended up raising $2 million from the likes of Mitch Kapor and Jeff Clavier of Softech VC. It also created social media analytics company, Chartbeat, a company that emerged from the ashes of a failed Betaworks startup, Firefly. [...]

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