The occasional problem with Meebome widgets

I’ve had a meebo widget running for about a year and a half now, and for the most part, it is an incredibly useful tool.  The widget is wonderful because you can embed it in a variety of places.  Like here, or here, or here, or here.  For virtual reference, the meebo widget is a very effective tool for students and patrons to reach a librarian.  However, you may have the occasional patron who stops by your site and goes nuts for some reason or another.  I suppose the concept of anonymity can be misused and may even be empowering to some. I just got back from my lunch-time workout and found the following:

meebo_badpatron.jpg

I apologize if  the language  this person used offends you.  Honestly, it offended and angered me, but writing this post has helped me feel a little better.  I felt that I should share this so that others could see that with advances in technology, you sometimes have to take the good and the bad.  I pray that this person has gotten this out of his system, and now will only spread joy to those around him for the rest of the day.

Pidgin4Lib looks cool

“Pidgin4Lib is a customized version of Pidgin. It includes a plugin for support of collaborative IM services. It allows libraries or departments to offer IM services with one public buddy name handled internally by any number of staff members.”

Wow.  This is something to definitely check out and play with when I have more time.  From the looks of the documentation, it appears to be fairly complicated.  However, it looks to be on the right path to solving some of the issues with IM reference.  There’s a powerpoint about the project here.  Unfortunately, I can’t tell who is working on the project from the wiki.  Anybody out there know?

Problems with Pidgin and Meebo–or–the chocolate has melted a little

Char has posted some problems we’ve been having with using Pidgin and Meebo.  I personally log into all my IM accounts and my Meebome widget with Pidgin, and it works just fine.  I’m able to get all my IM’s and meebome conversations in one single place.  It’s also very nice to change my status in one place, and have that reflected in both the IM and meebome status notifications.  So, for individual use, Pidgin and Meebo are still like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Unfortunately, when I try to log into our departmental accounts with Pidgin, I often find myself in the middle of a rather painful crash loop.  I can only speculate that this is the result of some compatibility issues with Meebo, as Char theorizes as well.  I can only assume that there may be some lag between when a user logs out of and IM sevice or widget in Meebo and when the connection is severed at the server.  I haven’t really had a chance to fully study this, but I assume that Meebo sort of hangs on to the connection just long enough to prevent me from connecting to the account in Pidgin.  Since we rotate IM duties on the hour, this hesitation can cause problems.  However, I wonder if everyone used Pidgin, would we still have this problem? 

The problem here is, I don’t know if this setup is reliable enough to convince our staff to switch to another client.  However, some standardization is needed, as with the addition of our Meebome service, things have gotten a little more complicated.  Some colleagues are still staffing the IM accounts with Trillian, while also logging into Meebo me to access the widget.  Others are simply logging into all accounts and widgets in Trillian.  I’m still not sure of the best approach with this.  While I really like Meebo, there are definitely benefits of a desktop client (more audible notifications for one).  I also hesitate to put all my eggs in one basket with a web-based service.  If all services are staffed through Meebo and it happened to go down, all of our services would be disrupted.  However, if we still staff our services with a desktop client, our IM services would still be up and running.  We’re not talking mission critical services here, but you know those students like to ask their questions and not be inconvenienced. 

If anyone has run into these problems and has a solution, please leave a comment on this post.  Otherwise, Char and I will continue to play with Pidgin and Meebo, and hope that we can get the chocolate and peanut butter mixed just right. 

MeeboMe and Pidgin is like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Update: 9/23/2009

I haven’t used this setup for well over a year, as for some reason it stopped connecting to the Meebo Widget.  However, the newest version of Trillian works great with the Meebo Widget, and I have written a guide that details how to set it up.

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Hey, you got your meebome in my Pidgin. Hey, your Pidgin is in my MeeboMe. Hmmmm boy, does that taste good.

So I was in a OhioLINK meeting yesterday, and one of the committee members told me that her colleague, Andrew Whitis, had gotten a meebome widget to work with Pidgin. They use Pidgin instead of Trillian to connect to multiple IM clients. Being able to connect to the meebome widget through my IM client sounded like a dream come true, so I decided to check it out. For libraries who staff IM with Trillian, a Meebome widget with meebo, and skype with skype, logging into to three different things can be quite the ordeal. Even NASA doesn’t have to start as many programs when launching the shuttle. I’ve written before about using multiple clients, so this seems to help get rid of the need to log into meebo. I downloaded and installed this plugin, and thus far it seems to be working great. Here’s what I did.

  1. First, I updated my version of Pidgin (formerly GAIM) to the latest version. You can download the software here.
  2. I then did a quick Google search and found this plugin, and installed it as directed into my Pidgin plugins folder. With a default Windows installation, you will find the Pidgin plugins folder at C:\Program Files\Pidgin\plugins. To install the plugin, simply copy the meebo.dll file that you downloaded into this directory.
  3. Next, I restarted Pidgin and activated the plugin. If you do not restart Pidgin after copying the plugin into the directory, it will likely not show up in the plugin list. You will find the plugins feature under the “Tools” menu in the Pidgin buddylist. Once the plugins window is open, you simply need to check the box to activate the plugin. See image below.
    meebo_plugins_pidgin.jpg
  4. Next, I created an account in Pidgin to connect to the Meebome widget. To add an account in Pidgin, click on the “Accounts” menu in the buddylist and then select “Add Edit.” Per the directons on the plugin page, you will need to enter these settings in your new meebo account in Pidgin: In the Basic tab, make sure you have the following:
    • Protocol: XMPP
    • Domain: meebo.org
    • Resource: Home

    (Note: The screenshot below is my settings for my own widget. Your Screen name and password will be different.)
    meebo_basicsettings_pidgin.jpg
    In the Advanced tab, you should have the following:

    • Connect port: 5222
    • Connect server: meebo.org

    meebo_advancedsettings_pidgin.jpg

After that, you should be good to go. Once a patron hits the widget on your website, the plugin will automatically create a buddy in your buddy list. Here is picture of the buddy list:
meebo_buddylist_pidgin.jpg

Once a patron starts chatting with you, it looks the same as a regular instant messaging session:
meebo_patron_pidgin.jpg

Now there are a few things to consider, particularly if your library staffs IM reference like we do. Unlike Trillian, there is not a setting to “connect to this account on startup.” However, Pidgin does remember the accounts that you were connected to when you exited the program. In a library setting where multiple users staff a IM reference service, logging in and logging out at the shift change time can be tricky at times. If the previous librarian is currently talking to a patron at the top of the hour, and you log into all IM accounts, you will boot the previous librarian out of the IM account. To remedy this, you may need to only connect to the accounts where there is no patron at the time. Pidgin does allow you to connect to only the accounts that you enable. In the buddy list, you can enable or disable accounts under the “Accounts” menu. Enabling/Disabling is the same as Connecting/Disconnecting in Trillian. At shift change, the previous librarian should “Disable” an account to log out, rather than simply closing out of the Pidgin application. This will allow the librarian the opportunity to selectively “enable” accounts the next time he/she starts Pidgin. As you can see from the screenshot below, I am able to connect to my personal IM accounts, my person meebome widget, our library reference IM account, and our library reference meebome widget. Before using this plugin, I would have been logged into Trillian for all IM accounts, while also having two different instances of Meebo running to connect to both widgets. This plugin definitely makes things a lot cleaner and easier. Upon logging out of our library IM reference accounts and meebom account, I will free those accounts up for the next person that logs in. However, I will leave my personal accounts checked, so that those accounts will start automatically when I restart the program.
meebo_accounts_pidgin.jpg

I’m very excited about this plugin, and I think it will make things easier for libraries who are staffing multiple IM accounts and Meebome widgets. I’ll continue to put the plugin and client through its paces, and I believe fall quarter will be a prime time to do so. More to come later.

Playing with WIMZI Widget

Paul Pival points to the new AIM WIMZI Widget. From first glance it looks pretty sweet. I currently use Trillian to connect to my IM screennames, for a variety of reasons. I also use the Meebo widget on the Biz Wiki and on my Business Blog. I probably get about 20 questions a week via the Meebo widget, and about 15-20 IM questions( mostly AIM), so both modes of communication have been very successful. Unfortunately, I often have a hard time remembering to change my availability in meebo when I step away from my computer, so patrons often try to contact me when I am in fact away from my desk. Since the AIM WIMZI connects directly to my AIM screenname, I simply have to change my availability in Trillian (or hit CNTRL-ALT-DEL) to make both my IM and the WIMZI widget read “unavailable.” I love Meebo, but AOL has me strongly considering jumping to to their new widget. I’ve embedded a widget below to tinker with the thing. After a little testing, I’ll have a better idea of how stable the widget is.

So why don’t I just switch to Meebo for all of my services? Well, Trillian has Meebo beat in a number of areas:

  1. Trillian allows me to send files over IM.
  2. Trillian allows me to configure my notifications. Meebo’s notifications are still a little weak, as the little ding is often very hard to hear.
  3. I can do audio and video chat over Trillian.
  4. I like how Trillian does different tabs for simultaneous IM transactions. For me, it makes things a little less cluttered.

Meebo wins by letting me access IM from anywhere. However, when I am mobile, I generally use IM on my Treo 700P, not the web. Since my primary place of using IM continues to be my office desktop, I still prefer the more robust features of the Trillian desktop client. On another note, I’ve signed up for the Trillian Astra alpha test, so hopefully I’ll hear something about that soon, assuming I am chosen. I’d love to put the new Trillian through its paces.