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Overview

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ReachOut is a methodology and a chat–based tool for peer support and community building. It proposes new methods for handling such problems as locating, selecting, and approaching the right set of potential advisors.

ReachOut bridges the gap between newsgroups, which focus on particular subjects and often retain discussion history, and real–time synchronous chats, which offer immediate awareness of new questions, a lighter tone, and a more interactive mode. ReachOut takes the best of both options, and adds push technology to portray new, by–topic awareness and mid–level persistency.

ReachOut supports an environment where peers are aware of each other's information needs, and are easily accessible to offer their knowledge and experience.

ReachOut users use a simple form to phrase their question. The system analyzes the input, and the question is transferred to the most appropriate advisors. By posting questions to the system, ReachOut users avoid the initial embarrassment of requesting help from strangers.

  

Each question constitutes a virtual chat room, where all participants can engage in a discussion. These chat rooms are kept open and available, even when there is no participant in them, allowing users to join discussions at a later time. After some configurable period of inactivity, the discussion is 'closed' and is no longer accessible to users of the system. This prevents users from relying on old content, rather than seeking new advice.

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