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How Being an Accessable Artist Makes You Money - Part II

In the last post I laid out some specific goals of an embedded chat widget on a website or blog to replace the long-defunct Meebo widget.  The required parameters were that it must have a minimal site footprint, work universally without reliance on a specific chat program, look presentably professional, offer some custom styling, always be reliable, work well with mobile users and be free.  The solution seems overwhelming but its actually pretty straightforward.

The first thing you'll need is to decide how many chat accounts you think is appropriate for your own website.  This decision is subjective to your own needs.  I chose some of the most common which included AIM, Astra, ICQ, GTalk, Pidgin, Yahoo Messenger, Windows Messenger/Live, Jabber, and Facebook.  You might be wondering about iChat.  Fortunately, our friends using Mac products won't have an issue since we'll be embedding our chat box in our site on the front end.  If they can browse to our page, they should be able to contact us just fine.

Once you have your accounts, the next step is to connect them all into a single multi-account program. Trillian which will serve as our universal user interface between all the accounts and numerous chat programs. There are a host of options that can be set up including imap/pop accounts along with email notifications.

The image above shows 5 small blue buttons in the top right corner.  These are the individual account settings that populate Trillian once you run the new account wizard.  This is where all the information about each individual account is stored and includes the various server host-names and port configurations. Most of these settings are automatic once you enter your unique username and password for each chat account. Subsequent troubleshooting instructions can be found at your account hosts' website (usually linked from their download pages) or in the Trillian support pages.

Unfortunately, at the time this post was written, Trillian did not offer any type of embedded widget.  A fourth party platform is needed to actually dump into your website to serve as a front end for website and blog visitors to actually use.

I tried a variety of chat programs for over a year but I was never satisfied with them.  Digsby was popular for a time but it was clunky, unreliable and has a large egg-like character/logo in the middle of the chat box.  Not exactly speaking to most artists' marketable audience.  After trying a few different and little-known services I finally stumbled upon ZoHo's Zoho Chat.  This platform will serve as the user interface for your website or blog and connects to Trillian on your back end.  You can see a live demonstration below.  If I'm online, you'll be able to chat with me live once you've entered a preferred username.  If not, the field will be grayed out and the "online now" button found below will also be gray.

I had some trouble connecting Trillian and Zoho Chat for about a week and did a lot of troubleshooting to find the problem.  I went so far to contact the kind folks at ZoHo for a solution. Essentially Trillian must be build or later.  Once I upgraded my Trillian application, the ZoHo documention fell right into place and I was beta testing my chat box in about one minute.  You can actually chat with yourself through the two interfaces to confirm that it works correctly cross-browser.

One of the best characteristics of using this method is how wonderfully fast, easy and reliable one may chat through Facebook without the annoying lags, cut-offs and dropped connections!  I actually turn my chat preferences in Facebook itself to 'off' and exclusively use the Trillian UI.  Its also very easy to send files this way to friends, co-workers and peers.

You might be wondering how Zoho Chat actually works in your site.  It is coded as a iframe tag on your site and should be compatible with a host of blogging platforms like Blogger, Wordpress, Drupal and possibly even Joomla (although I have not personally tested that one yet).

What about mobile?  If you set up Zoho Chat before Trillian, you'll notice they have integration with IMO and IM+, two popular mobile applications.  These will not work.  Fortunately Trillian offers a mobile application that mirrors its desktop platform almost identically and I discovered that some of my account information was pre-populated for me once I had it running on my Samsung Galaxy S2.  Both Trillian and Zoho Chat offer step by step instructions on how to set up for mobile devices.  You must use a Jabber account to do this to connect all 3 systems.

Zoho Chat is pretty basic will little or no frills and doesn't leave a huge mark on your site but it does require a little tweaking to get it looking clean and professional.  You can find the parameter guide here.  The parameters can be turned on or off and some CSS styling can be applied to the skin.

If anyone reading this requires some help in getting things set up, I'm happy to oblige you.  Feel free to shoot me an email on my contact page or post a comment below.