Chat rooms are a great way to build up an online community and attract visitors to your website.
Adding a Chat Room to your Website
Chatrooms make your website "sticky", meaning surfers tend to stay on your website for longer periods of time.
If your website sells services or products you have a far greater chance of making a sale if the surfer comes to know and trust your website due to repeat visits. It has been said that a surfer needs to see an ad at least 7 times before they actually complete a purchase online.
Their are two main differences in chat room code suppliers, hosted and non hosted.
Hosted Chat rooms
This means that the company you are using to supply your chat room hosts the actual script (the code that makes the chat room work) on their server(s). Usually they supply you with several lines of code to copy and paste on your web page in order to display the actual chat room.
A decent hosted chat service will allow you to alter various settings including, layout, font size and colors etc. and the average user never realizes that the chat is not part of your website. Many hosted chat services allow you have a free chat room on your website, although you will often find that they are displaying third party advertising either in or around your chat room. To receive a chat room without advertising you will need to pay for the service, usually a monthly or yearly fee that can vary by the number of simultaneous users you expect to be online at once eg. 50, 100, 500, or unlimited users.
The advantages of a hosted chat service are:
Its very easy to add the chat room(s) to your website by just pasting some code into the page.
The company supplying the hosted chat performs all the maintenance and updates of the software.
FREE unlimited user chat room for your website
An example of an excellent hosted chat service that supplies both free chat for your website and paid chat services can be found at AddonChat Java Chat Software (www.addonchat.com). Even with the free version you can add as many sub rooms as you like, eg. Lobby, Games chat, Movie chat, Dog chat etc. The possibilities are endless.
By starting with the free chat version you can update at any time to the paid version which offers more admin features including user banning and your own advertising campaigns. You do not even need a website to have your very own unlimited user chat rooms, that way you can simply link to your chat from your blog, website, myspace etc. You could also keep your chat address private and just give out the link to your friends and/or family, thus creating a free meeting place for communicating with your family, friends or school mates.
Be sure to check the "features" link on the top of their website to see if their hosted chat meets your requirements.
Non Hosted Chat rooms
Non hosted chat is when you host the complete script on your server. You will almost always require a dedicated server due to the amount of bandwidth and server processing required.
Several chat services offer non hosted chat but beware it usually comes at a hefty price for the script with server license. However this cost is usually a "one of" payment although some chat script licenses require a yearly fee. Also bear in mind that a dedicated server will set you back around $200 a month.
Advantages of Non Hosted Chat rooms:
You are free to modify the script to suit your requirements - for example you can integrate or have have your chat room integrated with other online community scripts, portals, and forums such as vBulletin, aMember Pro, Invision Power Board, WowBB, phpBB, or PHP Nuke.
Disadvantages of Non Hosted Chat rooms:
You are responsible for software updates etc.
The initial cost can be a major factor to many.
Server compatibility problems are often encountered and may require some expert tweaking to enable you to run the chat server software.
If your chat room has many users then your server will also consume a lot more bandwidth.