Posts tagged ‘instant messaging’

(O)Unified messaging

Found out this morning that the OU are going to be trialling unified messaging with MS Office Communicator. Up until now we’ve basically used email (and occasionally the phone!) to get in touch with colleagues, but we’ve never had any actual presence information alongside this  – so you’re not sure if someone is actually in the office or away on holiday (people don’t always turn on their out-of-office auto-replies).

Some of us use MSG for getting presence info to see if people are around and available and having quick chats, but there hasn’t been a big take up in the organisation for using instant messaging (well, not for work anyway!). So I wonder how much the instant messaging aspects of Office Communicator will actually get used. I guess the integration with Outlook/Exchange would have a big bearing on this. If you know that someone is in the office and free you might just call or IM them instead – so maybe we’ll see a reduction in the number of emails flying around?

Not sure what all of this means for MSG and FlashMeeting (Office Communicator also has video-calling) – though I’m sure they’ll live on, especially for communicating with people outside the organisation.

Facebook finally adds chat

I’m surprised it’s taken them so long… (admittedly it might have been there a little while and I just haven’t noticed!)

Will have to investigate and see what it’s actually built in, whether you can log in using a different client and if you can add contacts from outside FB? I suspect that you’re tied to using their client and your only contacts are your facebook friends.

Multi-user chat with MSG

Chatroom in Pidgin on MSG server

“Does MSG do multi-user chat?” is something we’ve been asked about countless times, and our response has always been no, and we’re not intending to add this feature, on the basis that many other clients already offer this functionality and we’re not here to reinvent the wheel.

Well, this is only partly true! The MSG web-client interface doesn’t offer the facility to create and join chat rooms, but the server that MSG runs on does (OpenFire Jabber server). This means that if you have an account on our MSG server, you can log into this account with another Jabber compliant client, which does have chat rooms.

Liam and I have been trying this out this morning using the Pidgin client (he’s also just had a meeting with few people using it) and all seems to be running well, these are the steps you need to go through…

  1. Create account on MSG (use the register link)
  2. Install Pidgin and connect to the msg server ( using you rnew username and password
  3. From the ‘Buddies’ menu in pidgin, select ‘add chat’
  4. Create a name for your room (only seems to like alpha-numeric characters, so no spaces)
  5. Fill in the options you want, or just leave on the defaults

We found the ‘invite’ function a bit flaky (didn’t track down the exact cause or where it was going wrong), but you can just give people the name of the room you’ve created for them to join.

Any feedback/comments etc welcome 😉

MSG Installation screencasts

I’ve just posted up some installation screencasts for MSG server to help out anyone trying to install it… more info.

Has also made me think that maybe I should go back and create one for using MSG within OpenLearn – specifically with a scenario for why you would want to use MSG within OpenLearn.

No more ‘lost’ MSG messages

I’ve now implemented the chat history function on the server, so we can try it out there for little while, before I transfer it over to the msg-openlearn server.

I have found a couple of little ‘quirks’ which I’m not sure will annoy users or not…

  1. the chat history is only written to the log files every 120 seconds (or whatever no of secs I set it to), presumably to stop too many file read/writes which would have performance implications. But it means that if you have a conversation, close the window, then immediately re-open a chat with the same user and try to load the history, you may not see the message history from the last couple of minutes (the history will be there later, just not now). I don’t know that I can completely resolve this, but I have set the log files to be written every 30 seconds, so hopefully it won’t be an issue.
  2. another thing that may look a bit odd is that if you have a chat with someone for a little while, and then decide to load the history, the messages from over 2 mins ago will appear twice. I don’t want to just overwrite the whole chat window, because then you won’t get the most recent messages (due to (1)), and I guess seeing the message twice is better than not at all. I think I’ve got a way around this, and that is to load mark the “loaded chat history” in the interface, so you know what is currently stored – and it then won’t look so odd that some messages appear twice.

Any feedback on the new chat history function is much appreciated 🙂

MSG Chat History

Spent the day yesterday figuring out how I could implement a load chat history function in MSG – as one of the things I find a little annoying with MSG is that if you accidentally close the chat window, you can’t get the chat back – and if I find it irritating then I’m sure others do too 😉

There were 2 ways I thought I could approach this…

  1. In BuddyXML (essentially the MSG server layer) intercept the messages as they are sent to/from users and store in files on the server, just in a directory structure reflecting the users involved
  2. Enable logging in the OpenFire server and parse these to give the user their chat conversation with the user selected

Each of these options has it’s pros and cons. Approach 1 means creating a new logging system (re-inventing functionality already implemented in OpenFire), but it would be quick to return the results to users (no parsing involved), whereas approach 2 has the opposite pros & cons – the logging is already implemented, but if the logs get big, it could take a while to parse/process them.

I decided to take approach 2, as it just *seems right*, but if it does start to become slow (with the parsing involved) we’ve got another method we could implement. In order to reduce the amount of parsing of log files, I’m restricting the conversation history returned to the last 7 days – although I’ll set the server to store the last 30 days, so we can increase the amount of history returned if it all works ok.

I’ve got most of this fixed up now and implemented – the final bit to put in place is to actually display the history back to the user in the chat window.

Hopefully this function with be useful to people (well, at the very least, I’ll find it handy!)

Usernames on map widget

I’ve just added usernames to the MSG map widget I created yesterday (see: so when you click on a marker it’ll tell you who that user is. At the moment this is only available for the server – but hopefully will be able to apply it to msg-openlearn server soon too. It the username isn’t available then just ‘Anonymous’ is displayed instead.

MSG RSS feed bot

Yesterday Chris installed an RSS feed bot on our server, so now we can subscribe ourselves to and RSS feeds and receive an instant message whenever they are updated – seem pretty good so far – will save me having to trawl through the list of blogs I’ve got on my netvibes page looking for what’s been updated!

So now thinking about whether this bot should be installed and run on the OpenLearn MSG server – as it could be something that’s really handy for people to have – and may increase take up of MSG – and especially MSG Alert.

MSG Presence Maps Launched

The MSG Presence Maps have now been launched live on the OpenLearn LearningSpace and LabSpace websites. This adds Google maps integration to the MSG block on both sites, allowing users to see where other users are located geographically. This also means that MSG is now available in LearningSpace – not just LabSpace, giving a much larger potential user base as the LearningSpace has approximately 10 times the hit rate of LabSpace!

Feedback is always welcome, especially on the new presence maps, so feel free to leave a comment here on my blog, or alternatively on the MSG Forum.

Future updates to MSG Alert

One of the things I need to get on with after the launch is to make some changes to the MSG Alert tool – the one that sits in the system tray to alert users when a new message is received – the key changes/enhancements we’d like ot make are:

  • Automatically set status to ‘away’ when the screensaver is active or the user locks the machine
  • Pop up alert when new message is received (like Outlook can do when new email arrives) as currently users (including me!) don’t always notice that icon has changed to the ‘message received’ icon (the red exclamation mark in the system tray isn’t alwasy enough!!)
  • Create versions of MSG Alert for Mac and *nix (not sure which versions yet)

This will all be quite ‘new programming’ for me, the current MSG Alert is written in C and it’s been about 8 or 9 years since I’ve done any C programming, and I’ve never worked with the Windows API in this way. So I think I’ll have a bit of a learning curve to get up to speed to get the new functionality implemented. Also I’ve rarely used a Mac, let alone programmed applications for it… so we’ll see how it goes!

Any pointers to tutorials or source code for creating applications like this would be much appreciated!! Especially code/pointers/tips/gotchas for creating the pop up alerts like Outlook has for email.