We all have pet applications. The apps that interest us so much as programmers, users and benefiters that we want to write our own. Its that ingrained thinking of a programming mind that you want to write your own version. My pet application is a live support type application written in ColdFusion and a .NET C# Desktop Operator Console with popup notifications.
I have had various incarnations of such a beast over the years and actually had one running that I developed for CFTagStore.com. I have never actually made one to a point that I was happy with.
The reasons were:
- Make it easy to use
- Make it fast
- Make it accurate when checking if someone is browsing, chatting, left the chat etc
- Make it efficient - this was the big one! I need to have an efficient database design, efficient polling for new messages etc
- Make it work across multiple sessions on the same browser
- Make it work if cookies were disabled
- The list is endless....
The benefits of live support are huge. I dont really believe in pro active chats, I always feel its better to leave the visitor decide whether they need my help. Although, saying that, when you see someone browse your site in realtime and you know they are looking for advice, its hard not to jump in and try and chat to them ;-)
Anyway, there are 100's of different solutions out there. Some are very good but too expensive (operator seat pricing is the main pricing model), some are very expensive and not that good, but I have finally found one that is both GOOD and RELATIVELY CHEAP.
The app is : Chat4Support
The windows application is a nice small download, there is a very good feature set in the FREE version and you get a full featured demo for 15 days for free. If you really cant live without the pro active chats and various other bells and whistles, a one operator seat for 1 year will cost you about Euro 170. Best of all they take a wide variety of payment options.
The free version in my opinion offers everything you could want:
- Live visitor monitoring
- One operator
- One department
- Multiple simultaneous chats (5 is the max at any one time in the free version)
- Windows Application with notifications on new visitor, new chat, visitor leaving etc
- Live Search Keywords - You know how the person came to your site.
After looking at the quality of this app and the amazing speed, I nearly cried. It solves all the problems that hampered my multiple attempts at my own ColdFusion version and they do it with such speed.
The real test for speed that I always use is: Start a chat and see how fast the operator window is notified. Start chatting and close the chat window without signing out of the chat. Now see if the operator is waiting around for a few minutes not knowing the visitor has left the building. In Chat4Support, it was instant. In Firefox and IE. I was impressed.
Another thing that impressed me was there live visitor monitor. It looks like the live visitor monitor in the Windows app is a web browser control and making calls to their server using AJAX. It was bloody fast. The minute I browsed CFTagStore in my browser, the live footprint updated in the windows app.
This isnt the only nice one I found BTW. Another app that I am also going to try is CuteSoft Live Support. The benefit of this app is that you purchase it outright and install it on your own server. While its not ColdFusion based (I couldnt find a CF based one) it is .NET and uses a number of DBS the recommended one being MS SQL Server.
For roughly $190 (about Euro 120) you can have your own Live Support app running on your own server. This also comes with a nice looking .NET Windows Application for the operator console.
After spending hours looking through various solutions and multiple feature sets and pricing models, it has invigorated me into thinking about actually going back and finishing my ColdFusion version. I had got pretty far! This is what I had working last time I looked at it:
- .NET Operator Desktop program with multiple chat tabs and chat notifications
- ColdFusion based chat engine using AJAX
- Server side polling for messages and chat requests
- Visitor and Operator chat windows with typing notifications
What I didnt have running to my satisfaction was Live Website Traffic - It just wasnt efficient enough. BTW, in my implementation, I used an APPLICATION variable in the form of a struct to hold all the visitor details, chat requests etc as I found it was a more efficient way than 100s of calls to a database.
I would love to work with other ColdFusion developers on such an application, possibly as open-source and release a decent version to the community for free. Any takers?