Hearst Magazines Digital Media Web sites, including Seventeen.com and PopularMechanics.com, are rolling out Instant Messaging functionality for their readers to communicate with. Can group chat keep fickle web readers on this publisher's web pages? We suspect that it could work well, but the first implementation we've seen left a lot to be desired.
Powered by fast-growing web IM platform Meebo, these new chat widgets can be accompanied by multimedia that chat users can view together. In a world where the magazine industry has to be feeling some pain from sites like MySpace and Facebook, maybe magazines have to put a little MySpace on their own websites.
We're very bullish on Meebo in general but this campaign, the Seventeen Magazine implementation in particular, is pretty uninspiring. We hope that when Meebo makes an appearance on PopularMechanics.com it will be a little more interesting. That wouldn't be hard.
Meebo tells a good story about huge increases in time on site for publishers that install their chat widgets, and that makes sense. Chat gives people a reason to stay on one page, if it's done well and there are a good number of people chatting then it's genuinely more interactive than anything a publisher can offer by themselves.
Meebo has a history of offering an interesting mix of aiming at the mainstream while still innovating in ways that are thought provoking for early adopters.
Bringing web IM to big mainstream websites is an interesting step in the evolution of publishing. We think it makes sense. We hope the big publishers can figure out what to do with it.