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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

HipChat Lightning Review - Is ARC ready for a group chat platform?

I was perusing Google Apps Marketplace this morning to see what's new out there and found HipChat, a multi-platform business group chat service. I am not sure why this one caught my eye initially, except that it had Google Apps integration. I watched the peppy-background-music video and then goog'd hipchat nonprofit, whereupon I discovered, for us, it is free.

OK, so it integrates with GApps. How much do we use the baked in IM in webmail? Would we used it more if a chat room space was available for multiple users? Would it really cut down on frivolous email chains? That is what remains to be seen. I signed us up. Sure enough, after approving API access for our domain to HipChat, it showed up in the More menu.

Ease of deployment is at the top of the Good Stuff list.

Staff clicks through More > Hipchat and is greeting with a form asking for Job Description and a password. I was somewhat puzzled by the prompt to set a password since it's supposed to be passthrough auth, but I used my agency email password thinking it would then enable passthrough. In any case, the app is where it needs to be in webmail, and all other login can be done in the background.

I set up a chat room for 1340arnold 2 accounts and took a second to figure out how to use the chat window. Found that and started a chat. First thing to configure: disabling the new chat audio bell. Here's a screenshot of settings for the webclient...

Yes, definitely sound off.

I am going to toss this out there for admin staff to try. My sense is that it could be easily adopted, simply because of how pervasive IM has become. I don't want it to become burdensome. If it truly helps cut down on email, then it has value to staff in general.

From an admin standpoint, it automatically recognizes my admin status in Gapps when I log into the web control panel. At the top of the window there is a tab for "Group Admin" where more granular control of permissions can be assigned and managed. Other management modules include individual configuration of notification parameters and paths, browsing of rooms and users, and deletion of account. 

I am curious to see if this gets a good reception and becomes useful. For the cost, it's worth the effort. Staff can access it by going to

Suggested uses...
  • File sharing between staff and guests, staff and staff
  • New employee assistance - newhires can ask questions on monitored rooms to get answers about how things work around here; guided answers can be eventually collected into a FAQ, but chat history is available to search in the mean time
  • New room creation request channel
  • Join request channel for private room access
  • Program, workgroup, or task specific rooms can provide support for staff in every program; facilitates discussion of protocol, method, tools, and guidelines
  • Broadcast information for mobile groups and teams without impacting email
  • State of The Agency broadcast channel
  • HipChat allows for guest access via private URL to specific rooms, enabling instant support channels for families by ARC staff or having group discussions with staff from other agencies 
  • Private channels for management at each level
Honestly, I am not sure this will be any more useful than Google Groups has been, but IM is less structured than Groups, and as such less cumbersome to manage. That reminds me, I should figure out a good use for Groups. A plus about Groups is that there's a Manage option in user permissions and no such equivalent in HipChat that I saw. There is also no obvious "ban" option if guest mode is enabled for a HipChat room, other than to disable and re-enable guest mode (which does generate a new URL if re-enabled).

In summary, HipChat is an interesting option for expanded agency and community collaboration services, falling somewhere between Google Talk's one-to-one approach and Google Groups' "bulletin board" platform on the function spectrum. 

Does anyone really want to manage or absorb another information input source? Adopting new communication tools requires that those tools offset the overhead of adaption with rapidly realized USEFUL benefits in the span of time it takes to learn where all the buttons and options are. Too much for us right now?

Time will tell.

Edit 10-17: A colleague pointed me at this review of Hipchat and 2 other group chat options. Looks like I picked the right one.

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