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Hitting a home run with IM

Case Study: Major League Baseball turns to web-based instant messaging to increase dwell time on its web site and boost fan loyalty.

For MLB.com, the visual concept of the solution was just as important as the underlying technology. The organisation wanted to create a Game Day chat facility that would give fans the look and feel of experiencing a live game with other fans.

It based its new instant messaging service on a virtual ballpark. Fans can visit different sections of the online ballpark during a game to join different chat sessions on different topics with different groups of people.

In one part of the virtual ballpark, fans of the home team can be discussing the state of the pitch or the decisions of the coach. In other parts of the ballpark, fans from opposing teams can get together to argue the merits of different players. "This is by-appointment chat," explains Choti. "The ballpark opens when the game begins and closes when the game ends. An automated session manager feature manages the chat rooms and ushers users out at the end of a game, just as they would be ushered out of a real ballpark."

As part of the project, ProcessOne developed a customised module for MLB.com to allow its ejabberd-based instant messaging server to interact with the company's existing web services and authenticate users against its user database. "Users can now log in once to mlb.com and use a range of different services, including the chat facility, without having to log in again to a separate system," explains Gough.

The entire instant messaging solution, including the customised module, was deployed in a very short timeframe, just three weeks.

You've discussed the game, now you can buy the t-shirt

Over the course of each season, it now facilitates different instant messaging sessions at as many as 25,000 venues. This Game Day chat facility is helping to attract more users to the site and is encouraging visitors to stay on the site longer.

This gives the company more opportunities to cross-sell and up-sell from its range of merchandise and services. In addition, mlb.com anticipates that the chat service will also help it to attract higher value advertisers to its site.

"The use of Erlang and clustering in the solution architecture not only ensures scalability, but also adds to the solution's stability and flexibility," says Gough.

Now that its Game Day chat facility is up and running, MLB.com doesn't plan to stand still. Every year it tweaks and enhances its web site with new features. "We are very confident that the ProcessOne platform is scalable and robust enough to support us in whatever direction we go," says Choti.

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