Live Chat with Learning Services

Over the last couple of months we’ve been working with colleagues in Learning Services to roll out a “live chat” service allowing students to ask helpdesk staff questions online.

Here’s what it looks like for the student:

Live Chat web client

And a sneak peak of what the staff interface looks like:

Live Chat agent client

It makes use of an XMPP/Jabber server called Openfire with a plugin called Fastpath that talks to the Spark client installed on staff machines. Fastpath provides a web interface that can be embedded into the Learning Services website.

The service is currently a trial running 11am – 3pm so go along and take a look.

What’s in a name?

At 5:01am on Saturday morning I was up and logged into Facebook. That might not be unsual for many people but last weekend Facebook launched usernames – the ability to give your profile or page a vanity URL – an easy to remember name – rather than a long number.

I was trying to bag myself “mikenolan” to match my accounts on Twitter, Delicious, Friendfeed and several other services, and I’m happy to say I was quick enough to do so. I was also registering a username for the Edge Hill University Fan Page. After much discussion we decided on

Aside: with 1004 “fans” as of 31st May 2009, we were only just eligible to register a vanity URL for the Edge Hill fan page.  This restriction doesn’t apply to regular profile pages.

At first glance the fuss over usernames is a little over the top, but for Facebook this is deadly serious. Usernames are all about Facebook’s attempts to become your online identity of choice and a random number means nothing to most people. While there have been few announcements about what they’ll be used for, we can have a few guesses:

  • OpenID Provider: Facebook are being forced to become more open, and one way which gives the illusion of openness is OpenID.  It’s similar to Facebook Connect and an easy thing for them to offer while still forcing you to log in with them.
  • Jabber/XMPP: They’ve already announced that they were going to open up Facebook chat to connect with third party services such as Google Talk.  It will be based on XMPP which uses email-like addresses to reference accounts.  A username is almost essential for this to be easy to use.
  • Email: Many – especially younger people – already use Facebook mail considerably more than regular email accounts so I  imagine they’ll allow you to use your as an email address.  I just hope they’ve got good spam filters!

What other uses can you think of?

With Google’s public profiles, and Twitter recently launching Verified Accounts, the battle for your online identity is well under way.

Get more from

Jabber LogoWe’ve been running a Jabber/XMPP server here for a few months now and with it being part of the new GO portal it’s probably about time to say a little bit more about it. Technical Services have been dealing with the roll out of the client to desktop machines and I’ve been looking after the server side of things along with the web client embedded in GO.

Spark ClientThe server is open to everyone with an Edge Hill username and password and you’re free to connect in from home or even via a mobile client. The desktop client we’ve gone for internally is based on Spark – it’s really easy to use yet has some pretty advanced features lurking underneath for those who need them.

Your login ID is (not the fancy style email address which some people have) and the server name is That should be all you need to get online! Once you’re connected you’ll need to add some contacts – just click the “Add a contact” button and enter the username to make the request.

The service has some fairly advanced features for those that wish to take advantage of them:

  • Conferences: join an existing conference room or create your own for private discussion.
  • Links to other IM networks. If you use Yahoo, MSN/Live Messenger, AIM, ICQ or Google Talk they you can link your account with the other services so all your contacts show in one list.
  • Interconnect with other IM networks direct! Some other networks are based on the XMPP protocol so for these you can add contacts directly – try it out with a Gmail address for a Google Talk user. A number of other UK universities are also using Jabber and we’re working to interconnect with them.
  • Twitter via IM: if you’ve caught the Twitter bug you can link your account so you can send and receive status updated via IM.
  • Get instant notifications of feed updates. Start a chat with and send the word “help” for more information. This works great with a service like to receive notifications when people in your network bookmark a site.

Most of these services are also available via the web version of (although there are a few bugs when doing things like searching for conference rooms) so you can access all this from anywhere you have a network connection. So log in, try it out and let us know what you think. If you work for another organisation and have a Jabber server then post a comment and we’ll try to get them talking to each other.