Web-based chat client Envolve unveiled plugins today that are said to give it “deep integration” with Drupal, WordPress and other online content management systems. The bootstrapped San Francisco startup hopes the move will help it mount a challenge to Meebo, the leader in the web-based instant messaging space.
The founders of Envolve say they are targeting an area that Meebo is missing. Sequoia-backed Meebo connects people by their social graphs, making sure that those who log on to a site can find their Facebook friends and talk to them. Envolve connects anyone who is currently visiting a site via a white-label Facebook-style chat. The chat allows visitors to communicate with each other whether they are friends on Facebook and Twitter or not.
According to co-founder James Tamplin, Envolve’s web-based chat is a way for sites to build their own community, without having to rely on Facebook or other IM networks. “Site owners can better convert visitors into returning community members. This has long been a challenge for web communities, and Envolve aims to solve this problem with its new user acquisition controls. Site owners can now leverage their existing users to attract and engage new community members. For example, they can allow a visiting user limited interaction with signed-in users, but the visitor will be prompted to sign up if they would like to continue chatting.”
Today’s announcement means a site owner can install the chat software through a plugin. The company has made its API available so that larger sites can integrate with Envolve however they need to. The chat software is free when sites use it in small amounts but comes at a fee when more chatting occurs.
Could it be that people are shying away from one-size fits-all Facebook? Envolve’s chat could be popular among those who prefer to participate in online communities more tailored to their individual interests, whether they be business, personal or even dating. “Venture Capitalist Mark Suster said recently that the future of the social web would see people moving away from Facebook towards niche social networks such asHackerNews that can better serve their needs,” said Tamplin. “One of the reasons is the rise of great third-party software. We provide key functionality to these fledgling networks and will help drive this future trend.”
Envolve’s chat software is run on more than five thousand sites currently, including LimpBizkit and Ricky Martin’s fan pages. It also includes real-time translation of chat messages into 59 different languages. Tamplin says no other real-time IM client offers that.
Mountain View-based Meebo received $25 million in a fourth round of funding less than a month ago. Other competitors in the web-based chat space include startups Wibiya, Userplane, Cometchat and Stickapps.
Tamplin and co-founder Andrew Lee have funded the company on their own so far with $40,000 and say they are in talks with several angel investors about possible backing.
Update: We’ve enabled Envolve chat on this post.