multi-platform chat world gains unlikely playerEarlier this month we mentioned Zoho’s attempt at beautifying their shtick with an interface makeover. Continuing down a road much traveled, the Web-based productivity champs will be expanding even further by including some fancy new instant messaging functionality.

On April 1st, Zoho will go head-to-head with the likes of Meebo and Trillian by releasing Zoho Chat 2.0. Like its competition, the new version of the instant messenger enables users to chat with anyone, regardless of which IM network they are on.

Cross-Network Communication

Almost every person hooked up an Internet drip is familiar with the concept and benefits of cross-network communication: Chat with anyone and everyone without having to sign on to each individual service. Lots of talk. No mess.

Meebo is arguably the favorite player in the game. Debuted in 2005, the multi-platform chat service is still in the lead. The tool currently allows users to talk to friends on AIM, Gchat, Facebook, Myspace, Yahoo Messenger and other clients all from one browser window with one all-encompassing buddy list.

Beginning next month Zoho will attempt to jump on the bandwagon while being careful not to lose their professional feel. The new and improved chat service enables Meebo-ish features in addition to several business-related functions like chat meetings and integration with other Zoho products. Here’s a quick look at what you can expect:

  • Live Support: Get your clients to chat with your support representatives live and solve their issues instantaneously.
  • Shoutbox:: Embed in blogs and websites for the site's visitors to express & interact among themselves. Make students in a class to interact in an open manner.
  • Embed Chat Allow a blog or website owner to communicate live with his/her site's visitors to get their feedback.
  • Multi-Protocol: Chat Conference chat with your contacts from multiple Instant Messaging networks. For now, the available networks include Yahoo, Google, MSN, AIM, ICQ & Jabber.
  • Group Chat: Group your contacts based on different criteria. Chat easily groups instead of adding contacts individually each time.
  • Integration with other Zoho products: Integrated with other Zoho products like Calendar, Mail etc. Get mail and calendar event notifications and take a walk on the counterproductive side by chatting live with others while working on spreadsheets or presentations.

It Ain’t Social Social?

While it sounds like yet another step in the right direction for Zoho, let’s face it people, the new chat service offering won’t be anything close to a threat to Meebo unless it offers popular social network integration.

Even though Zoho’s aim is obviously to provide immediate communication for work purposes, tossing social networks to the mix couldn’t hurt. After all, stepping into today's social ring opens a Pandora's box of expectations. Popular networks like Facebook, for example, already blurs the line between professional networking and keeping up with your friends.

Additionally, Zoho makes no mention of whether or not a record of chats will be stored and maintained—a feature Meebo offers as well. When it comes to discussion around important projects and such, we think a feature like that is a must-have.

Dare we also suggest an iPhone app? Oh yes, yes we do. 

Get the full scoop and keep an eye on Zoho’s efforts by following their chat site here, or their blog here.