There are plenty of group chat programs out there, many of which boast different features, price tags, interoperability, and so on. With all the options available, it might be hard to figure out which one is right for your company. Is it better to get the one that can hold up to 20 people but has no screen sharing, or is the screen sharing worth the extra cost and fewer people? If you need to conduct virtual meetings, picking the right group chat service is important.
Now, there are some free services that many people already use, such as AIM, MSN, Skype (News - Alert), and so on. These are great for chats between individuals or small groups without needing many features; just text, voice, or video conversations. For those with Skype, a paid version is available with many more features and options. However, sometimes a little bit more is needed.
When that is the case, there are a few things to look for. For starters, there’s the interface itself; you’ll want a simple interface that makes it easy to join a room, start a chat, share files, etc. There are services such as Campfire and HipChat that use a lobby, with tabs for rooms and lists of online and offline users, or others, such as AIM or Imo.im, which have a list of users that you double-click on.
Naturally, the features available are also important. It’s safe to say that all programs will offer text chat and rooms, with most also making voice and video available. Then you’ll also want to look for photo uploads, chat records, screen sharing, file sharing, and more. Not everyone will need the same features, so it’s best to determine what your company or team needs and find a chat program that offers those.
Mobility is also worth considering. There are mobile versions of apps such as Skype, Facetime, and iChat, as well as paid apps for various devices. For instance, Campfire is available for iOS devices, leaving Android users with a more expensive knockoff, while Imo.im has apps for Android, Nokia, BlackBerry (News - Alert), and iOS. In a BYOD environment, it’s especially important that those who need mobile apps will be able to access the same program.
To not mention pricing, of course, would be foolish. If none of the free programs offer the services you need, there are various pricing options. Skype, when being paid for, has a small monthly fee, as does HipChat. Other programs can be pricier, with Campfire starting at $12 per month for up to 12 users, and grows to nearly $50 for up to 60 people, 750 minutes, and 10 gigabytes of storage. Whichever is more cost effective depends on your individual needs.
Now that you know what to look for, you can start finding the right chat service for you. All of them are fine options, but every company has unique needs, and one of the services is bound to meet all of yours. Just don’t make the mistake I did and choose an embarrassing username that will haunt you forever.
Edited by Brooke Neuman