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SiteSticky 4.0, by Joe Mitchko

In the increasingly fast-paced world of the Internet, myriad new Web sites seem to arrive daily, intent on gaining market share. Whether your site is involved in business-to-consumer sales, online services, or portal services, the name of the game is the same: try at all costs to retain users and give them the best customer service experience.

Keeping content up to date and constantly adding new features help, but require technical resources and time. Other methods include developing a community of users with a common interest and getting them to hang out at your site. The term stickiness describes how well a particular site attracts new users and keeps existing ones coming back.

NetDive provides a number of products that add community to your site and give your Web site customers the highest-quality service. Their products for the community building purpose are SiteSticky and WeMessage; for customer service it's CallSite, and for communication and messaging they are eAuditorium and WeMeeting. They're all designed to plug easily into your site.

One thing particularly nice about NetDIVE products is the customization capability. You can completely change the look and feel of their user interface. All products provide complete localization capabilities as well, so you can choose several user interface variations, allowing you to switch among several languages, including Spanish, French, and Arabic. The internationalization features of the products appear to work well as evidenced by the significant global interest.

SiteSticky is NetDIVE's application for Web-based chat and community building. It has two components: a Java application service that runs on your Web server and a Java applet that can be embedded in one or more pages on your site. There can be additional components involved in the Enterprise class version to enable such things as full cobrowsing and the ability to tunnel through firewalls.

Providing an applet-based product for third-party use on other web sites isn't an easy task. To stay compatible with all Java-enabled web browsers, SiteSticky was developed based on the Java 1.0.2 API. Our tests show that SiteSticky ran in various versions of Internet Explorer and Netscape browsers without any compatibility issues.

WeMessage Portal is an instant messaging software system similar in nature to AOL's Instant Messenger, for large portals that want to offer instant messaging services to their users. It has lots of features and, best of all, it's written in Java.

CallSite is a web-based customer service and call center application that allows visitors to a web site to click a button for instant multimedia communication with the agents of the company. It can be used for a variety of purposes, including interactive online technical support and assisting users making online purchases. As a developer, you'll find CallSite particularly powerful for integrating your Internet-based customers with your sales, shipping, suppliers, and partners due to its completely open standard-based design. In general, NetDIVE has done a good job of integrating their products.

Another unique feature of NetDIVE applications is their patent-pending voice communications module. This allows you to instantly engage in voice communication in two modes - hands free and CB mode (where you're required to keep a button pressed down to talk).

Installation
Installing NetDIVE enterprise class products was straightforward, but required some technical skill, including familiarity with the target web server. The installation instructions did a good job of guiding me through the process. As always, it helps to read the instructions first (I know it's hard). To run the SiteSticky, WeMessage, or CallSite service, you need to have a JVM installed on your Web server with the proper path and classpath settings in place. NetDIVE recommends JVM version 1.2, although they claim the product is compatible with version 1.1. I used version 1.2 from Sun. You can also use Microsoft's Win32 JVM. There are several ways to launch the service, depending on what version of JVM you're using.

Scripts are provided for quick start-ups in your environment. Although starting the services on my NT 4.0 server was easy, it required bringing up the DOS command prompt in the foreground. For production situations it would be better to have the servers run as NT services instead. Also, with firewalls everywhere and more restrictions every day, NetDIVE offers the ability to run all their software systems as servlets using port 80 instead. This requires you to install a servlet engine on your Web server, which may complicate the overall installation process depending on the web server you're using. You'll also need to adjust the applet parameters at your site to point to the servlet. I'd suggest making the right choice (firewall-proof versus nonfirewall-proof) ahead of time so you don't have to go back and change every applet parameter in your HTML.

Test Drive
You can try NetDIVE software systems by going to the NetDIVE Web site (www.netdive.com) and clicking on the Try Now button.

I couldn't pass up trying out the cobrowsing capabilities of NetDIVE products. This feature allows two or more users to browse the web together as if they were looking at the same browser. For instance, you can shop at an online store with someone who may be on another machine halfway across the country. The possibilities of cobrowsing while engaging in voice communication are endless. Besides extending the online shopping experience (SiteSticky), this could be a boon for customer service reps (CallSite).

Programming
Now for the good stuff! The first things I often ask when looking at a product like this is how easy is it to program and what technical expertise do I need. First, NetDIVE apps are based on complete open standards, so on both the client and server side they're extremely programmable and easy to integrate into other components (such as SQL databases).

You can also control what API plug-ins can be used, as well as other control settings. The challenge from a Java programming standpoint is creating your own API plug-ins. NetDIVE apps provide you with an API base-class library, allowing you to create your own plug-ins with relative ease. You just need to stick to the interface provided. A reusable class library makes it even easier to program new features.

Documentation
The documentation provided with NetDIVE apps is complete but not extensive, and could use some grammatical improvements as well. For instance, in several cases I had to read a sentence a number of times to figure it out. Generally, however, I found it technically correct and to the point.

However, NetDIVE provides complete installation of all its Enterprise systems (remotely via TelNet), so you can always have the NetDIVE engineers install the whole system for you and not bother with the online documentation.

Author Bio
Joe Mitchko is a principal engineer with eTime Capital, Inc., Sunnyvale, California, where he specializes in Internet architecture.
[email protected]

 

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