Just plugged this nifty-looking little Flash app into my library's distance ed homepage (Library Connection). It places a small window on a web page that allows a visitor to immediately initiate a chat session. On my end, there's a small desktop application that allows me to indicate if I'm available or not, and that also lets me know someone has just initiated a chat session on my web page. It's just another way to do instant messaging, but doesn't require that the student have an IM account, or that the one they do have be compatable with yours. Yeah, no co-browsing or transcripts, but you could do worse than try to reach out to your patrons, right?
A programming note - the Library Connection homepage now sports applications from Blogger, Chatngo, RSSify, and NedStat! You'd think a university this size could offer similar support, but if they do, I'm not aware of it.
First found out about Chatango from What Ralph Knows. I'll post again sometime in the future to let you know if anyone uses this feature. I suspect there are other similar free tools like this out there - PeopleClick used to offer something similar, but it's no longer available for free. What was neat about theirs was that I would get a ping as soon as someone loaded my web page, and then I could initiate a chat session with them via a floating balloon that popped up right in front of them - "Hi, can I help you find something?". Kind of the online library equivalent of the pushy salesperson. Maybe it wasn't such a great tool after all