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Originally published Monday, January 8, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Small office / Home office

Chat lets people interact on your Web site

Most businesses today have a Web site and e-mail address. In fact, I will go as far as saying that not having an online presence in today's...

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Most businesses today have a Web site and e-mail address. In fact, I will go as far as saying that not having an online presence in today's competitive business world is tantamount to not having a phone number or fax machine.

I have a national radio talk show and one of the more popular things on my Web site (www.computeramerica.com) is a live chat room. Having a chat room is a wonderful way to let the people who frequent your site interact with each other.

Of course, there are businesses where customer interaction may not be advisable, such as a law or medical office.

Then again, since chat rooms can be made to be anonymous, an exchange of ideas between the people with whom you do business might be a good idea.

Obviously only you can be the one to make that determination.

If you do decide to give it a try, there are several sites that offer chat-room applications.

The one I use on my Computer America talk show is addonChat from addonInteractive technology (www.addonchat.com). Recently upgraded, addonChat lets you run an interactive chat room directly from your Web site.

With a minimal amount of effort, you can have your users sign in to the chat room by typing in any screen name of their choosing and protecting it with a password so that only they can use that name.

The addonChat client uses the free and ubiquitous Java software, which runs a small Java applet application that seamlessly integrates to the participant's browser. Once they sign in, they are presented with a new chat-room window complete with little function icons and three active areas within the chat window.

The main window is the actual chat room that displays what everyone in the room is typing to each other.

The area directly below is where you type in your messages and the area to the right is where you see the names of everyone who is participating in the chat room.

The features of addonChat are quite impressive in that you as the administrator can exercise total control of your participants. If people get out of line, you can kick them out temporarily or ban them from ever coming back.

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The latter banishment works via a combination of keeping track of users' IP addresses as well as placing cookies on their browsers.

There's also a bad language filter that prevents someone from typing something obscene. You can edit and add the words that you wish to ban.

Other features let you customize the chat room's appearance, such as font color and size. Participants can choose from emoticons such as little smiling faces, and sound effects that can alert users to something being typed.

Participants can also send private messages to other users. Double-clicking on a screen name opens a new little window into which you can send messages directly to the other person.

Users can also choose to ignore other users or highlight them so that they stand out from the other participants.

One other desirable ability of addonChat is that when users sign in, they can see the last 10 or so lines so that they can see a bit of what has been said before they entered.

This is a very nice touch so that one doesn't have to ask what's been going on when they enter the virtual room.

addonChat comes in a free version so that you can check things out before you buy.

When you decide that this is something you want to maintain, you can upgrade to the Professional Edition, which goes for $80 a year. addonChat works with any Java-enabled browser in Windows, Macintosh and Linux.

Currently it does not work with Windows Vista but that's being corrected.

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