October 09, 2006

OU Messenger Doubles as Interesting Conference Application

I had a demo of some bits of the OU's instant messenger service, MSG (pronounced 'em ess gee') I hadn't seen before from Marc Eisenstadt last week.

The client is built as a lightweight, one click is all you have to application (though the list of possible new features seems to be creeping a little ;-).

The core functionality is already there, though, and will be appearing in the OpenLearn labspace as a prelude to integration (I presume) into the OU/Moodle VLE. For anyone in the OU in particular who is considering using instant messenging/synchronous comms in a course and isn't aware of what's going in in KMi at the moment, I urge you to take a look.


OU users can see MSG being trialled in the labspace area of OpenLearn (note the site on that URL goes live on Oct. 25th; it can be viewed behind the OU firewall, but last time I looked gave an Apache holding page message if accessed from outside... (oops, chaps.... how about a holding page announcing the launch date or a redirect to oci.open.ac.uk?).

MSG can be launched with a click from the Labspace front page (no client necessary), and authentication is handled for you using your OU or OpenLearn login credentials.


Flashmeeting rooms can also be launched/booked on spec if you need an a/v synchronous link.

Presence everywhere is one of the features that is being explored, with presence indicators that will appear next to the names of individuals registered on the same courses as you wherever their names appear. (Users can opt out of this if they want). Clicking on the user's name will then open a MSG window so you can chat to them.

Users are allocated to one or more groups and can only see lists of users who are also allocated to those groups.

I don't know how much presence info will be available on a personaised OpenLearn front page, but that would be THE place to get presence info for your buddies displayed...

At the moment MSG can only handle one-to-one messaging, although I believe a group chat is on the way, which would be useful for OU course use I think?

Closer integration of Flashmeeting and MSG is also on the cards, although how the UI will work out I'm not sure. The first step will see a Flashmeeting button in the MSG client, so chatters can breakout into a video room quickly and easily. Flashmeeting has its own chat facility, so Flashmeeting simply as a crude MSG bolt-on will raise some interesting usability questions (which chat client to use, for example).

One interesting application of MSG that Marc showed to me was it's use as a 'site-specific' messaging tool. MSG was deployed at ESWC06

MSG is a web application that ... [is] eminently suitable for use in environments where software installation is either difficult or annoying, or in ad-hoc short-lived group environments such as conferences. MSG is what we like to think of as a 'featureless' messenger: there are no parameters, no settings, no options, no groupchat - just a ready-made conference-only roster, simple presence states, and click-to-chat. ... [We are] committed to providing location information, and this lightweight interface enables users to select one out of several conference venues, including coffee, bar, and the main conference rooms, represented as a pure text string, so that contacts can locate one another quickly.

All conference registrants were allocated a MSG account, and each emailed a pin (personal identification number) that they could use to access their account. User groups were created based on a) all registrants; and b) interest groups (using information that was presumably collected during the conference registration process, or scraped from special sessions the delegates had signed up for).

Whilst signing into the MSG client, the users could specifiy their location. MSG does have map integration (so users can be shown at a particular location on a map) but I'm not sure if this featured in the ESWC06 trial.


I know that Brian Kelly at UKOLN has been demoing services like gabbly chat as a way of creating ad hoc online chat rooms at conferences, but this approach offers a bit more privacy. The lack of a group chat faclity may be an issue, but I think for delegates wanting to take an opportunity to make contact with other attendees at a conference, MSG could be very useful.

I don't know how well used MSG was at ESWC06, but will try and find out...

Posted by ajh59 at October 9, 2006 12:41 PM

Thanks, Tony!!! Gonna have to crank up the PR engine on this... ;-)

Posted by: Marc Eisenstadt at October 10, 2006 02:29 PM