Web-Based Group Chat is Not Just For Remote Teams

The team I work in is small (4 people) and we all work within 20 feet of each other. So, when When Tom Watson suggested that we start using Campfire for internal communication I was skeptical.

After all, email suited us just fine and wasn’t the whole online chat / instant messaging concept intended for people who were spread apart geographically?

However, after only a few weeks usage (we’ve now been using it for some months), it became clear that it had become an essential tool for communication within our team, even though we are all within -shouting- raised voice distance of each other.

There are several reasons why Campfire (or any other chat room / IM tool) has proved to be so useful:

  1. It’s a much more efficient way to send short messages than email.
  2. You can ask someone a question or to do something without having to disturb them by walking over to them.
  3. It’s easier to ask a quick question to a group than by email. As soon as someone replies, everyone else sees it.
  4. It keeps a log of all our conversations, so it’s really easy to look up old information (I find myself searching for links a lot).
  5. You can have the odd non-work conversation without feeling like you’re wasting other people’s time by clogging up their email.

Of course, it doesn’t really work unless people respond to messages in a (reasonably) timely fashion, but because it’s so quick to click on the Campfire tab in your browser this hasn’t proved to be disruptive to my workflow.

We’ve got into the convention of putting someone’s initials at the start of a message if it’s being directed solely to them, and that works well.

Why Campfire?

I dare say we could have used any one of a number of tools. However, Campfire has worked out just fine for us so that’s what we’re sticking with.

I love the fact that it’s completely web-based so that there’s nothing to install and you can login from anywhere.

It has the functionality we need, including the ability to upload files, search through old transcripts and it has a clean, simple interface.

You can even make conversations “off the record” if you need to discuss something private — though I’m pretty happy with the real world alternative of closing the door.

I wouldn’t mind some formatting options for our messages (it would be great if we could use Textile); however, I’ll forgo that for Campfire’s ease-of-use, and the fact that it’s free for up to 5 users.

4 thoughts to “Web-Based Group Chat is Not Just For Remote Teams”

  1. And if you don’t want to clog up your browser with campfire, you can use an application made exclusively for campfire!
    Flare – which is not yet at version 1 yet, is a pretty easy to use, very simple application running on the .net framework (required) that lets you run campfire on its own. You can minimize it to the tray as well.
    Very very handy if you use campfire as a “Tech Support” or “live Chat” situation – as you don’t have to keep a browser window or a tab open all day. Just the app in the corner.
    I love it!

  2. We mostly use instant messaging at work (rather than group chat) but I find that there’s one huge advantage to both that I didn’t see in your list: Much of out communications usually incorporate some code, an email address, a link (ok, you mentioned links,) or something else that’s going to end up as text anyway. These things can be much tougher to communicate vocally.

  3. *Scott* – that’s a very good point. We often send each other links and code snippets via Campfire.
    So much so that we even say, “Oh, I’ll Campfire it to you.”
    If I need to user test something at another person’s PC, I’ll often post the link to Campfire, go over to the person’s workstation, and login to Campfire to retrieve the URL. Very handy!

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