Go.talk Instant Messenger

As I mentioned in a previous post we are currently working on an Instant Messaging solution for our staff and students based on Jabber. That last post got a lot of attention and I’ve had people asking how we are progressing so I decided to post and update.

One of our main objectives with rolling out an IM program was to integrate the functionality as much as possible with the new Go Portal. Our webteam have now added a jabber client to the portal so that staff and students can use the IM system from anywhere with internet access. While this has been going on we have also been looking into a desktop client for the computers on campus. In my earlier post I talked about using the Spark client and I’m pleased to say that we have finished our client customisation and we will be releasing it on our network under the brand name go.talk shortly! Here is a screenshot of our finished client front end.

gotalk

Colleagues have already started installing the client on new student desktops and we will be putting it on all new staff computers. If everything goes to plan then a network installer should be available to all staff fairly soon and we will put out an email to tell everyone how to go about installing it.

I’d also like to pop in a brief note to say that we are continuing with our wireless network expansion plans with cabling work taking place in Forest Court this week. Welcome Sunday is less than a week away now and we are working hard to try and get as much as possible done before the start of term.

Campus instant messaging


MSN, ICQ, AOL, Yahoo, Skype, the list goes on and on! Instant messaging (IM) has become one of the most popular online services over the last 5 years. From the early days of plain text chat rooms and IRC people have been using the internet to communicate in real time rather than via email. Recently there has been a massive rise in online social networking and more people now use some for of instant messaging service than ever before, research last year showed that 82 million people used instant messaging in Europe alone. With IM being so popular surely there must be a use for it within education?

IT Services have been looking at an open source instant messaging system called Jabber with a view to providing a University wide instant messaging system allowing staff and students to communicate in real time via the web. After lots of testing and with hard work from Web Services to implement the back end systems we are finally ready to deploy this system.

We have decided to use a Jabber client by the name of Spark. While not as feature rich as clients such as MSN messenger or Skype, Spark offers us a great deal of flexibility as it supports an open source plug-in system which means we can develop our own features for it. The back end system is also very flexible and integrates into our network allowing us to use network login for the Spark client.

So what does all this actually mean? Well from September onwards we will be deploying Spark to all computers at the Ormskirk campus and to other areas off site. Users will be able to launch the program from their desktop and login using their usual Edge Hill username and password. Because the system is integrated you can add contacts using their Edge Hill ID so for example I could be added just by typing in goulds in the add contact field. The person you add has to accept your request before you can start sending messages (after all John Cater doesn’t want 4000 people in his contact list pestering him endlessly!).

In our trials it proved a very popular way of keeping in touch for our department as you can get information quickly without the hassle and formality of email and unlike a phone call if the person isn’t around you can see that they are offline or set to away and either leave a message for them to see when they come back or wait until they are available.

I’m quite looking forward to see how Spark performs and what the uptake is like from staff. The new GO portal will also have a jabber plug-in and I can see it being a very popular way for students to communicate with each other. Of course their are implications about its use in classrooms and potential abuse but we will have to take that in our stride as we finally start testing out in the real world.

Here is a preview of what the spark interface looks like, as you can see it’s quite similar in design to popular IM software like MSN and Yahoo Messenger: (click for bigger picture)
Spark client