Ever heard of IRC? It was to web-based chat what Usenet was to forums. Okay, that probably doesn’t help you. Well, suffice it to say that it was much more powerful and convenient and interesting, but it required a dedicated application to access, so it fell into oblivion as soon as the most primitive HTML/Flash/Java equivalents started appearing.
Forget all the “chat with your readers” widgets you’ve ever seen; this is the ultimate solution (even though it’s kinda ugly, and for some reason you can change some colors but not the light green frame). Just pick up a unique channel name (channel is the IRC word for chatroom, one starts with a’ #’ and mine is #wwwgaroonet), put up a link on your site that opens this channel in the embeddable version of Mibbit, and you’re all set; everyone can chat together, you can have tabbed private chats, and no registration is necessary for anyone (even choosing a nickname can be optional). The free irc.mibbit.com server even has NickServ and ChanServ, which means that you can however register your own nickname and channel names, as explained in Mibbit’s wiki, so that nobody can impersonate you. And, since this is a real IRC server, you can also launch a separate IRC application on your computer for added convenience, if you’re gonna spend the day there. Perfect. It’s just a pity that the web app is too ugly and not customizable enough to be used on commercial sites.
If you’re interested in the technical side of things, and you’re as mystified as I am that it can work so well, there’s a nice interview with the developer at Ajaxian — in short, it uses a Java webserver/proxy on the server side to keep the connection open and forward your packets to the IRC server.
So come on over and have a look at #wwwgaroonet (when my blog reaches critical mass and I have too many readers for a single channel to be manageable, which is gonna happen, like, so soon, I’ll branch out into #wwwff00aacom and #wwwbewarethefrogcom, which are already reserved, of course). Sure, it doesn’t have webcams, but it’s also super fast, lightweight, and doesn’t hit my CPU at all. And I can’t stop marveling at how well it works.