The online media world was in one helluva tizzy late Wednesday and early Thursday when someone discovered that CoveritLive, the live publishing interface used by many brands and news organizations, was no longer offering free accounts. Many of us have been using the ad-supported version of CiL to hold reader chats and publish liveblogs for years now – and we were quite surprised. With several big conferences and annual news events coming up, news orgs will need some alternatives in place very quickly.
As of Wednesday, CoveritLive’s trial/free plan allows for only 25 “clicks” (whatever those are) per month, with all other plans charging per “click” with a capped limit each month. In other words – this is no longer a viable option for most newsrooms.
Eds note 2:17 p.m.: I’ve been told by a social journalism contact that CiL will be free and ad-free until July 1. (Not independently verified)
Having only recently posted my praises of CoveritLive, I felt compelled to help by pulling together a list of alternative workarounds for live chats and liveblogging.
If you have a suggestion to add to this list, please share it in the comments or submit it here.
If You Intend to Pay Anyway
ScribbleLive is probably CoveritLive’s best-known competitor in this space. ScribbleLive is a paid service used by many news organizations for live coverage, especially those in the tech world, and its functionality is quite similar to that of CiL.
You don’t have the resources or the time to set up a whole new deal with a new vendor? OK, here’s some things you could try.
Note: This is a quick post, I intend to edit and add more suggestions below as I find or receive them.
Use your Existing CMS or Blogs
Call it low-tech, but if you have a website with a CMS or a blog, you have a liveblog (albeit a slower, manual model). We used to do this all of the time for liveblogging stories at TBD and it works fine if you set up an easy-to-follow system of posting.
Quick to-do: Start a new entry in your website’s CMS or your blog with the basic info you have for the breaking story or topic you’re tracking. When you have an update to add to this liveblog, put it above the last post, indicate it as an update with a timestamp like so.
Live Tweet and Display/Curate
It’s time to take your liveblogging to Twitter by either using your existing personal or newsroom Twitter account or setting up a special handle just for live tweets. To make sure those readers who aren’t on Twitter can still see the live postings on your site, you’ll need to do some quick curation.
For in-the-moment tweets, you could opt to use a simple Twitter widget embed to show this account’s tweets or display a hashtag search. If you want to keep the tweets on your site and in order, you’ll need to do some quick curation and publication in a tool like Storify. If you have the time and resources, you might opt for a more selective “liveblog” by live-curating tweets and other elements in Storify. You could embed the beginning of the live curation in a post on your site and all new updates you publish within Storify will automatically publish to that entry without refreshing.
Build Your Own Using Google Docs
My Digital First colleague Ivan Lajara, who always has an answer for such problems, mocked up a liveblog in Google Docs. Using the Docs “Publish to Web” feature, you can embed a live document inside your site or, for faster updates in a near-live format, put an iframe around the live document. He noted that text, URLs and images from Google Drive seem to work fine here, though users will likely have to refresh to see changes and it won’t be easily viewed on mobile devices. If you use the iframe method, be careful, as it is truly live and users will be able to see you typing as you edit.
Quick how-to from Ivan: Set up a regular Google Doc and make it public. To put an iframe around it using
<iframe src=”HERE GOES THE URL OF YOUR GOOGLE DOC” name=”frame1″ scrolling=”auto” frameborder=”no” align=”center” height = “1000px” width = “600px”></iframe>
If you try something like this on your own, drop me a tweet or comment and let me know.
Elana Zak posted about a few other CiL alternatives over at 10,000 Words. She highlighted live blogging tools G-Snap, Wordfaire and WordPress’ own liveblogging plugin.
Live Chat Workarounds
Use Facebook chats
You could hold a basic chat int he comments within a Facebook post. It isn’t the most elegant process in the world, but at least everyone knows how to use it. If you’d want to archive this chat, you could opt to save all of the pieces in Storify using either their Facebook page search or (as I would recommend) their browser plugin for Chrome Firefox or Safari.
There are also several Facebook apps out there (I know of Clobby, what else?) to allow brands to hold on-page chats with fans. I haven’t used this method before, so I can’t speak to it, but it exists (if you have info on it, let me know).
Use Livestream/UStream chats
If you have video capabilities, sites like UStream and Livestream are great for engaging in chats with readers. You can embed the live video stream into your site and allow comments via the sites’ built-in social stream functionality. A downside? You can’t moderate the comments.
Use Google+ Hangouts On Air
Google+ Hangouts are great, their original downside was that only 10 people could participate. Hangouts have recently gotten an upgrade thanks to the newish ability to broadcast the live chat using YouTube. If you’d like to try it, check out how the New York Times uses this tool.
To add in questions from viewers to this chat, you might opt to pair it with Google+ page comments, Twitter, Facebook and/or a liveblog entry to collect comments.
Live-curate a social media chat
Using similar methods as I described above with live tweets, you could pull together a chat on- and off-site using Twitter or Facebook coupled with Twitter and/or Storify embeds. You might want to set up a special Twitter account just for live chats, as things could get a bit crazy for your followers.
If you only care to display the chat as it happens live, you could use a Twitter widget embed to show either a hashtag search or just the tweets of the newsroom chat Twitter account and those of the involved panelists. That chat “host” could re-tweet questions from followers and, for those readers not on Twitter, could share questions sent in via on-site comments or email as tweets.
If you want a more curated experience (or you want to archive the chat), you could use Storify during or after the chat. To do this, you’ll need to set up and embed the Storify in advance. When the chat starts, you can start pulling in the tweeted questions, answers and comments within Storify. Hit “publish” often to send the updates to your site.
Cbox is a social chat product that embeds into your site. You can customize the look and feel and it seems pretty intuitive at a first glance. There is a free ad-supported version with the choice to upgrade to an ad-free version.
Chatroll is another social chat plugin that has a nice look and works in HTML5 (mobile FTW). It allows users to log in with Twitter, Facebook or chat as a guest. (Hat tips to Jen Lee Reeves)
Sunlight Live is an open-sourced live tool created by Sunlight Labs. I don’t know much about it, so I’m gonna tell you to bug Joshua Hatch for more info, as he made this suggestion to me.
If you have a suggestion to add to this list, please share it in the comments or submit it here.
How to Set Up A Chat Using CoveritLive
On April 24, 2012
In Community Engagement, How Tos
Lauren Boyer, a business reporter at the York Daily Record/York Sunday News, contributed to the following step-by-step directions for setting up a live chat between readers and panelists using CoveritLive. Many of these steps would also work for setting up a liveblog on your site where multiple staffers could contribute and readers can leave comments and questions.
First: Go to coveritlive.com and create a (free) account.
Create a chat
Customize your embed code to the size of the chat window you want (make sure it will fit into your online story or blog template). Copy the code and paste it into whatever platform you plan on using for the chat (this might be a story file on your website or an entry on your blog).
If you are embedding the chat onto Facebook, WordPress or other sites that don’t allow iFrames, check the right box under the displayed embed code to get a custom code for you.
Set Your Panelists
Under Additional Options, click Add Panelist/Producers. Under Add Panelists enter your guest panelist’s e-mail address and press the green plus sign. Adding Producers would allow another person (presumably a member of your staff) to have admin access during the chat.
Then, click the green “Send Invites” button at the bottom. Click “Save” at the bottom of the screen.
Under Additional Options, you have these options available to add to your chat or liveblog:
Notify your panelist
After you’ve set up the panelists in CoveritLive, let them know that they should have received an e-mail from an application called “Cover It Live.”
Tell them it’s important to save that email, as it has the link inside that they’ll need to click on at the time of the scheduled live chat. When they click on it, they will need to enter a login or username. It’s easier to tell them to enter a new username, since they probably don’t have a CoveritLive account (your staff, however, should have accounts).
Once they click on the chat link on the date of the chat, it will open what Lauren describes to participants as a “90s-style chat room” or an instant messenger window.
At Chat Time
Sign back into your CoverItLive account. Under My Account on the left hand side of the screen, click Upcoming. Locate your chat under CiL Events, click Launch Event Now.
Note: If you’re on an account used by multiple people, click Settings on the left-hand side of the chat console and change your display name to your name.
Only you and your panelist can see the reader comments coming in to the right side of the chat screen. To approve comments, thus making them visible to the public, click the green plus sign on the individual comment. To send a private message to the sender, click the yellow key sign. To block a user, click the red circle.
CoverItLive Chat Screen View (Image: CoPress)
Inside the chat, you have a lot of options for what you can do to enhance the reader experience, like adding polls, uploading media, adding trusted commenters (like other staff), displaying a scoreboard and adding in options on the fly.
Ending Your Chat
Just Xing out of the screen won’t do anything. Go under Tools on the left side of the chat screen, and click option that says End Live Event.
Access Your Past Chats: Go to My Account > Completed Events. Select the event you want and click on the buttons along the top of the menu to see what options you have available.
Edit Entries: You can edit your chat after the fact here, if need be.
Save your Archived Chat: Keep this content around for others to see. You have the to either leave the chat on-screen for a user to replay or you can copy it all down as HTML and save it in a file in your CMS. This is a good idea if you want the chat to be searched by Google.
Check your chat stats: Log into the account and click Completed on the left side of the home screen. Click the button to select your event and click the “Statistics” button (looks like a pink, blue and green bar graph).