In a modern distributed company in order to communicate, businesses use tools like teleconferences (urgh), email, instant messaging (which one?) and more integrated packages like campfire.
Or you can be a little old school and use existing platforms for real time chat like Inter Relay Chat (IRC). IRC does exhibit quite a learning curve, though if your company are engineers, it shouldn't be too much a problem to learn how to use IRC.
I think Freenode should definitely discreetly host company channels, since it will only encourage companies to contribute to open source software projects down the line.
NickServ - user authentication
First you need to register with nickserv,
/msg nickserv help register
Then you need to configure your IRC client to authenticate (identify) to the nickserv on startup. Ideally all your employees need to do this, though you can restrict your channel to IPs instead.
ChanServ - restricting your channel to your employees
Setup a dialog with chanserv and then begin like so:
help help register
Which provides help how to register your channel. For the purposes of this tutorial, I'll use #example.
Then (providing your registered and identified with NickServ), you will become the founder of this channel.
So lets assume all your employees come in from the IP
can now restrict the channel to those personnel, like so:
FLAGS #example *!*@nat.example.com +V set #example RESTRICTED ON
So FLAGS sets up the access control list. To see who is on the list:
access #example list
To add an additional admin user:
FLAGS #example ircusername +votsriRfAF
If a user tried to join your restricted channel, the user will be immediately kick banned. So if that user is for example later added on the access list, you need to unban that user for that user to rejoin the channel.
To see the current bans in place for the channel:
/mode #example +b
To remove a ban for say 126.96.36.199:
/mode #example -b *!*@188.8.131.52
What about transcripts? If you run a decent IRC client like
irssi, with screen and Apache httpd vhost on
/web it's as
/SET log_create_mode 755 /LOG OPEN -targets #example /web/irc.example.com/%Y-%m-%d
Then if we to refer to our chat yesterday I would simply say check out
http://irc.example.com/2010-06-14. To password protect the site, simply use an
.htaccess like so:
irc.example.com$ cat .htaccess Order deny,allow Deny from all AuthType Digest AuthName "acme" AuthUserFile /web/digest-password Require valid-user Satisfy Any