As blogging becomes more and more professional, we are seeing a range of new analytic services, tools, and techniques that aim to better understand the mind and intentions of the user. The user, we are to understand, is a fickle, inscrutable, and unfathomable beast who can only be understood through careful observation by the Jane Goodall of your analytics software.
But that is obviously not the case. Users are humans (those which aren’t trolls…) and they can be talked to, reasoned with, and sometimes even persuaded (in principle). They have voices and, through a variety of tools and applications, it is now becoming easier and more practical to draw them out into conversations where you can engage them in dialogue. By learning more about what they like and think, you can then craft content that better answers their needs.
These conversations, though, don’t have to (1) be restricted to just you and your target user and (2) don’t have to be purely informative. Using a WordPress chat plugin, you can create site-wide conversations where your users interact with each other, build a community, and hopefully turn your site into a lively destination that will attract loyal visitors and repeat users. Take a look below to learn more about one such plugin, Barc, that can help you to achieve those goals.
An impressive addition to the already pretty crowded market of WordPress chat plugins, Barc.com‘s new plugin manages to do an especially good job of covering most of the bases with an easy-to-use, attractive, and powerful solution. The most exciting thing about Barc, though, is the range of social tools that your visitors are able to use to connect with each other.
Chat: A normal chat function. Users are not required to be logged in to contribute here and add their opinions and Barc lets an unlimited numbers of users access the basic chat function at any given time. Though you can carry on a discussion here, the real aim is for users to meet in the chat room and then continue their discussion(s) in the Forum and Private chat spaces.
Forum: This tab allows your users to see and create “Posts” and “Polls”. The “Posts” enable you and your users to create a comment (with title, image, and content) that visitors can view, reply to, and discuss. The “Polls” allow you and your users to ask questions (they can be Yes/No questions or Wh-questions) of each other and then vote and comment on those questions. To create either of these, your users will have to either register with Barc directly or use their Facebook/Twitter accounts.
Pages: Your users can view how many people are on the site right now and what pages they are on. This will allow users to see what they might be missing out on and encourage users to dive deeper into the site.
Private: Those users who would like to have a conversation that is not visible to all Barc users everywhere can choose to use the Private option. It allows them to invite another user (or users, there is a single and a group option) and start a private chat session.
Simply download, install, and activate the plugin to get started (it’s free!). Once installed on your site, you can begin configuring:
- The color, background image, and positioning (side of the page, vertical offset, and should it be open on page launch),
- The verified users who will represent your site,
- The pages it can and cannot be shown on, if you would like site-wide or page-specific chats, and whether you want to show the “Posts” or “Pages” tabs.
Even if you haven’t installed Barc, you might find it operating on your site. If a user installs their bookmarklet in their browser bar, they can open up a publicly accessible chat on any website they visit.
Not sure if Barc’s platform and plugin meet your needs? Check out a few other recommended plugins below that offer some different options, features, and functions:
- A personal favorite, Tokbox is working to make the process of chatting with your visitors face-to-face through streaming video applications simpler, easier, and more fluid. Their WordPress plugin allows you to see how many people are checking out your site and open a video chat where your users can jump in with the press of a button.
This plugin from WPMU Dev takes the complexity out of adding an IRC-style chat interface to your site. Once installed, the plugin places an icon in your Post/Page editor that allows you to create a chat page where your users can talk to you and to each other. For those of you who are looking for a solution that works in a BuddyPress or Multisite installation, this plugin is optimized to work with those site setups.
- Urtak’s plugin aims to build conversations on your site by allowing you and your users to poll each other. It combines an attractive and eye-catching interface with detailed analytics data on your visitors’ responses.
- A genuinely unique chat/comments plugin, iScribbled allows you to add a class to any element in your post or page that enables a discussion space for that element. Your users can simply click on a icon next to the element that you have marked up and have a space to discuss that part of your post exclusively.
- Probably the most powerful and feature-rich of the options (although probably not the best looking) on this list, AVChat‘s WordPress plugin is especially good at handling the display of streaming video and audio.
- GoChat boasts a simple interface that is easy to use and the least visually obtrusive of any of these options. For those of you who want a powerful chat plugin that doesn’t take up too much space or attention, this is probably your best choice.