The communication methods discussed in the previous two modules were forms of anytime communication. This type of communication involves a disconnect between when the message is sent by one person and viewed by another. The person receiving the communication may access it at "anytime." A real life equivalent to anytime communication would be postal mail (sometimes referred to as snail mail). The forms of communication discussed in this module offer the opportunity to meet in real time. The person receiving the message will view it immediately after it is sent. A real life equivalent to this type of communication would be a telephone call.
In Internet Chat, people view and respond to messages from one another instantaneously, much like a telephone conversation. Although some chat software includes audio and/or video aspects, most chat and instant messaging programs are text-based. One person types a message on the screen, and the other person sees the message either as it is being typed or immediately after it has been typed.
There are two forms of Internet chat that are frequently found on the Web: chat rooms and instant messaging. Chat rooms tend to be open forums where a number of people chat with one another simultaneously. Often the people who meet in a chat room are people that have not met each other in the "real world." Instant messaging (IM), on the other hand, is a one-on-one form of Internet chat. Although you can choose to IM with strangers, often it is used to communicate with friends and family. Examples of instant message services include AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, and Google Talk.
Many institutions are discovering new ways to integrate Internet communications into their organizations. One of the most frequently encountered is Web conferencing, which takes Internet chat to a new level. Web conferencing is currently being used by businesses for employee training, meetings and general communication. Educational institutions are using Web conferencing as a way to enhance on-site classes or distance education classes.
Web conferencing allows participants to share information, ask questions, get answers, discuss problems and work collaboratively. Conferencing provides opportunities to solve issues by providing a dynamic exchange of text, graphics, audio, video, and HTML links to information in a structured conversation organized by topic.
Web conferences may take place in real time where all participants are communicating at the same pre-arranged time. Web conferences also take place in an anytime environment where participants log on to the conference site when convenient and respond to comments and concerns of other participants. This form of communication allows participants to carefully consider what they wish to post to the conference. In both business and educational situations, Web conferencing allows people who may have felt left out of more traditional forms of communication (i.e., a business meeting or a class lecture) to contribute. Popular conferencing programs include Go to Meeting, from Citrix, NetMeeting, available free from Microsoft, and Elluminate, which provides programs specifically designed for education, business, and a personal-sized version for small groups that is available for a monthly fee.
In December 2003, the state of Florida created a library information service that uses several methods of Internet communication to provide information to all Florida residents. The Ask-A-Librarian service is part of the Florida Electronic Library and provides "virtual reference" service. The goal of a virtual reference service is to provide information seekers with free, convenient, real-time access to a librarian who can answer reference questions and assist the questioner in locating information on the Web.
Special software is used to provide chat and co-browsing, so the questioner sees the same screens the librarian sees. The librarian can send handouts, help files, spreadsheets, or slide presentations to the questioner. Since an increasing number of library resources are available online, librarians can also co-browse databases, e-books, and other online reference sources and provide instruction on how to navigate such online resources. Transcripts of chat and browsing sessions may be e-mailed to the questioner. A knowledge base has been created to provide answers to questions about local libraries, and by selecting a local library, questions may also be e-mailed to that library.
When you see the Ask-A-Librarian icon on a Florida library website, simply click to access chat, e-mail, or query the knowledge base. To log in to chat, make sure you disable your pop-up blocker or set it to allow pop ups from the Ask-A-Librarian site.