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LibraryH3lp is software used by libraries, educators, and non-profits for better customer service.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Use the standards, Luke

As part of our ALA 2012 series, we last discussed how the ability to create unlimited numbers of operator accounts in LibraryH3lp maximizes flexibility in a virtual reference service. In this post, we're talking flexibility again, but in a different way. This time we're talking staffing software flexibility. That is, how you chat with patrons.

Options = Flexibility

The earliest prototype of LibraryH3lp (circa 2007) was a specialized version of the open source Pidgin client. Eric (our chief architect) wrote it to overcome the technical problems inherent in offering a collaborative Meebo Me widget and IM chat service between UNC, Duke, and NCSU. We learned pretty quickly that providing a single staffing interface was incredibly limiting. Then Eric made a pivotal technical decision that translated into ultimate staffing flexibility; Eric decided to use XMPP (a.k.a. Jabber) for LibraryH3lp.

If you've ever used Meebo, imo, GTalk or Facebook chat, then you've already used XMPP. XMPP is an open protocol for instant messaging, not something that we made up ourselves. So there are lots of chat clients out there that support it, providing you with many options for staffing your virtual reference service. You can use our software or someone else's. The choice is always yours.

Staff from your browser. We have a nice, simple web-based chat client that tightly integrates with core LibraryH3lp features such as tag for follow-up, transfer, and blocking.  You can use most any browser (except Opera) with this chat client. Every computer comes with a web browser, so you are good to go. Nothing for you to download or install. Firefox and Chrome users can opt to get desktop notifications, which provides a visual cue, in addition to the audible cue available in all browsers, of incoming patron messages.

If you already use another browser-based chat client like imo, Zoho chat, or Trillian web (RIP Meebo Messenger), you can opt to integrate your LibraryH3lp account there and skip our native web client.

Staff from your desktop or laptop. Prefer to use a desktop IM client? You can staff LibraryH3lp from any chat client that supports XMPP. This includes Pidgin, Adium, Trillian, iChat, and many others. Staffing LibraryH3lp this way is pretty handy if you want to aggregate your LibraryH3lp account with your personal IM accounts. And desktop clients are super customizable and configurable.

And, as we described in yesterday's post, having lots of your staff signed in with LibraryH3lp accounts means they can be available for transfers or direct IM even if they don't staff any public-facing chat widgets.  Aggregating your LibraryH3lp account into your existing IM client is a very easy way to achieve that.

Staff from your mobile device. Got a smartphone or tablet? Put it to work for virtual reference! Roving librarians outfitted with something like in iPad or smart phone can staff LibraryH3lp with chat apps that support XMPP, like IM+ and OneTeam.

Both IM+ and OneTeam offer robust and reliable push notifications so that you won't miss patron messages, even if you're in another app or have your device locked.

Also, remember that you have internal IM available with LibraryH3lp, so if you're not actually staffing any public chat services from your mobile device, your colleagues can IM you when you're out and about.  It's a really handy way to stay in touch when you're away from the library.

A chat platform.  When you combine LibraryH3lp's unlimited operator accounts with standards-based staffing options, you can start to see why we proudly call LibraryH3lp a platform. We provide all the bits and pieces, and you can use them to design a crazy-good virtual reference tuned to your library's needs.

The XMPP standard is powerful.  Our special LibraryH3lp features like transfer, blocking, tag for followup, profile pages, etc, are all achievable through the XMPP standard and commands. Client support for extended features varies and will improve over time.  Our web client provides the simplest access to our fanciest features currently, placing them right in the conversation window. But most are also available through external clients.

But that's not the end of the story.  There's even more goodness with XMPP above and beyond staffing flexibility. Since it is an open protocol, it is ready-made for integration into other things. That's a big part of the reason we're able to have gateways for other IM networks like AIM, Yahoo!, and MSN. And, this can go beyond just IM. But that's a story for another day.

We invite you to learn more about LibraryH3lp and to give us a try with a 90-day no-risk free trial. Trials have no feature limitations so you can put your trial into use on your live site with real patrons before making any decisions about payment.

More to come in our ALA 2012 series! Get automatic updates of new blog posts via RSS and e-mail.

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