Embedded chat in a website provides the ability to more closely connect with your readers or customers, depending on the instance. Chat widgets provide real-time feedback and spur thought-provoking discussions - features lacking in e-mail. However the disadvantages should be acknowledged too. In some cases, widgets may slow down the page load or take away from the overall site experience rather than enhance it. However I encourage everyone to give some of the following chat widgets a try and make your own conclusions. Let's take a look at some of the top ones...

MeeboMe

MeeboMe is the leader in the space. This spin-off of the original multiple client chat (Meebo) is a nice, simple chat widget. It features publisher status, user nickname editing, and sound control. Also be sure to check out MeeboRooms, launched earlier this year.

Plugoo

Plugoo is a slick little chat widget that enables you to talk with site visitors via your IM client. In other words, you can work as usual without having to keep an eye on the chat box. Then if someone initiates a chat, a message will pop up on your IM. Great concept.

Mabber

Mabber is a simple, basic chat widget. No frills or gimmicks. It has an easy set-up process and intuitive interface, which makes this a good choice if you're looking to add a little something extra to your site.

Pladeo

Formerly InCircles, Pladeo is beautifully designed Flash chat widget. Some might call it overkill though. Site owners can choose a vertical or horizontal layout, as well as the color. Nicely designed, but it may take away from the rest of your site.

Userplane

Userplane is a more sophisticated chat offering. I found the sign up process to be a bit tedious, but the end product was worth it. The company launched a revenue-sharing program in May of this year. [disclosure: Userplane is a R/WW sponsor]

Geesee

Geesee is highly functional and robust, yet it's also a cumbersome service. I found the interface and color scheme to be a bit childish, although I suppose the service is tailored as a more 'fun' offering than some of the others.

Gabbly

Gabbly is a slick, multi-user chat widget. The service also provides RSS and audio functionality. I found it to be a pretty good overall offering, unless you're looking for something extremely basic.

Chatango

Chatango is a personalized chat widget. The set-up was easy, yet it still provided a high level of customization. The interface wasn't the slickest, but it was intuitive. Overall though, I thought Chatango was mediocre.

Zoho Chat

Zoho Chat was one of my favorite services that I tested. It is extremely easy to set-up and very slick. The widget is very simple to use and professional-looking. [disclosure: Zoho is a R/WW sponsor]

ParaChat

ParaChat is more of an application than a widget. The embedded chat box is a "presence" and feels like it's part of the website. However the look n' feel is very web 1.0 and the ads take away from the experience. Overall, I wasn't overly impressed.

Conclusion

The implementation of a chat widget should be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. Not all websites may benefit, as some people may not have the time or resources to operate the technology. Having said that, the ability to facilitate real-time, pertinent discussions cannot be understated. Check out one or more of the above chat widgets and let us know what you think. Also if you know of other chat widgets or embedded chat programs that we missed, be sure to list them in the comments.