How can switching instant messaging (IM) platforms change anything? Don't they all do roughly the same thing? This is what I was saying before we adopted HipChat a few months ago. I had read all of the rave reviews, watched Pete Curley champion his baby at last year's Summit...and yet I was still skeptical. Our company email is Google Apps for Business, so we were all unified on GoogleTalk. We didn't have an IM problem.
As an Atlassian Expert, we signed up for HipChat to experiment with it but it quickly became our company standard. The main reason is that almost all of our electronic communications begin in HipChat, where as before it was fragmented between email, IM, and SMS. We didn't create a policy to make this happen, it just happened, I think these are a few reasons why.
Topic rooms are not new but they are done really well in HipChat. We have rooms for various topics from finance to client projects. Rooms can be restricted to specific users (private) or made available to everyone in the company (public). The best thing is that we can grant access to private or public rooms to external users with the toggling of a checkbox. Once the room has guest access enabled, simply give the external user(s) the displayed URL. They will log in via the web client, not see any of the room history (which would probably be awkward if they did) and immediately be able to participate in the conversation. When the conversation is done, uncheck the checkbox, and everything is private again. Next time the room is opened up, all of the history will be suppressed for the external users...brilliant and exactly what we want!
The other powerful feature in rooms is the mention feature. If you need to get the attention of a user in a room just type: @UserName (don't worry, there is type-ahead so you are really just picking the user from a list). If you need to get the attention of all users in the room, simply type @All. What does getting their attention mean...read on to Guaranteed Delivery
If a user is not into a room or logged into HipChat to receive a message or mention, they receive an email with the message and a link to get back into HipChat. Most likely the user will have one of the various mobile clients installed on their phone and will get an alert on their phone. Nobody can ever say they missed a message. It's impossible. This is why most of our communications will originate in HipChat. You know the user will see the message almost immediately...unless they are backpacking through the Yukon.
Since we have topic rooms and guaranteed delivery, persistent history is key. Any message ever sent in a conversation is saved in the room or thread and the history is searchable, unless an administrator wants to purge the history. What's even better is that HipChat knows about URLs and images, so it's easy to find those artifacts.
As expected, HipChat integrates with the entire Atlassian platform. Confluence can post a message to a room when a page or blog is added or updated, a nice supplement to watching a space. Jira can post messages on workflow state transitions. Bamboo can post messages about builds. And the list goes on. This truly builds on the topic rooms because many of the other Atlassian platform events are part of the topic dialog.
Much like everything else Atlassian does, they have provided a rich API to build your own integrations. I don't want to steal Joel's thunder because he will be blogging about this soon, but he is building a robust chat-bot, named "Robotron 2084" (after one of our favorite office arcade games) that will do some amazing things. Keep an eye out for Robotron!