I’ve gotten very excited by the reviews I’ve read about Jybe, but I had never actually given it a try myself. Until today.

For those who don’t know, Jybe is free co-browsing software that lets a user browse the web with another person on another computer. It’s great for showing people cool websites, doing web-based technical support or reference assistance, teaching information literacy, and teaching distance learning classes. It obviously holds great promise in providing instruction, both inside and outside of the library. The main problem with using Jybe is that it has to be downloaded by each user, and people asking for reference assistance virtually may not want to do that. But for distance learning classes, software downloads can easily be required. And it certainly can be downloaded onto the computers in a library.

Jybe is downloaded (either for IE or Firefox) as a toolbar on your browser. Users can join an already created session or can create their own and have others join in. The interface is the browser with a small chat window at the bottom, allowing users to describe things while browsing. Some have mentioned that Skype compatibility would be useful since it is difficult to type and browse, and I definitely agree. Jybe is still in Beta, meaning that it has been released for testing, but users may still encounter bugs.

The makers of Jybe seem very interested in getting feedback from librarians about their product. They really want to add the functionality that people may actually need to successfully use the product, which is quite refreshing to see. From what I’ve heard, their most recent release is a significant improvement over the last one.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Jybe is free not open source. This means that users do not know what is going into the source code and whether or not any of it will be harmful to their computer. If there was a good open source co-browsing alternative, I’d be using it, but I haven’t found one. My husband, a passionate open source software advocate, admonished me for downloading Jybe, exclaiming, “you have no idea what you’re downloading!” But as usual, I ignored his well-intentioned advice. Sorry, hon.

My experience with Jybe has not been so promising. I first created my own session, saw the interface with the browser and chat window, and then got the blue screen of death and my computer rebooted itself. Then, I tried again. This time I was able to type something into the chat window, but when I tried to go to a different URL I again got the blue screen of death. Not so good. I decided to give it one more try. I rebooted my computer myself (sans blue screen of death), opened up Firefox, and created another session. And got the blue screen of death again. When my computer came back up, I found that all of my cookies must have been deleted, because I had to log-in to My Yahoo, WordPress, del.icio.us, Netflix, Amazon, NY Times, etc. Needless to say I’m not particularly happy with Jybe at the moment.

My husband was absolutely right. I don’t know what went wrong with Jybe (I have the latest version of Firefox and an almost brand-new computer) and I really have no way to find out since it’s closed source. But I want no part of a piece of software that is so harmful to my computer that it gives me the blue screen of death. And I don’t know how it did it, but I don’t want a piece of software that can delete my cookies on its own. If someone can explain to me why this happened and how it can be prevented, I may be willing to give it a try again. Because after reading all of the glowing reviews from my peers, I was really looking forward to trying Jybe. I think Jybe-like co-browsing software really holds promise for online learning and virtual reference services. But I’d feel more comfortable if it were open source. In spite of what a company assures you of, you really don’t know what you’re downloading if it’s closed source. And I want to know what it is in their software that had such a catastrophic effect on my computer.

But a lot of people seem to be quite happy with Jybe. If you’d like to see some reviews of Jybe by some tech-savvy librarians, go check out The Distant Librarian (and here), Tame The Web, and the Librarian in Black. I won’t, however, recommend that anyone uses Jybe until I understand why it did what it did to my own computer.

Update: Very shortly after writing this, I got an email from Brian at Advanced Reality, the folks who created Jybe, trying to get to the bottom of what went wrong. After troubleshooting it with him and one of his colleagues, I’m pretty sure the problem has something to do with my copy of Firefox, since I got it to work fine in IE. Customer service like that is rare (heck, I didn’t even write to them!), and I really do appreciate their efforts. So perhaps I’ll try reinstalling Firefox or I’ll maybe even try Jybe sometime in the dreaded IE. Thanks Brian and Jack!