How-to Guide

Live Chat vs In-app Messaging: What's the Difference?

There's a lot of confusion around live chat vs. in-app chat. How are they different? We dive into that here.

Kent J McDonald • Feb 4, 2021

So you’re looking for ways to improve user communication and you think that chat will definitely help with that.

To pick the best type of chat for what you’d like to accomplish, you need to be clear on a few things:

  • The different types of “chat”

  • What you mean when you say “user communication”

  • How the different types of chat help with different kinds of user communication.

This post brings much needed clarity to those items and helps you decide the best tool for your needs.

What do you think of when you think of chat? Do you think about the opportunity to interact with a website’s customer support staff (or an AI bot) live via text so that you don’t have to actually talk to someone? This is called live chat.

Or do you think of exchanging messages with other users of the app, not necessarily live, such as what you do on Facebook Messenger, Whats App, or Slack. This is called in-app chat.

Following so far? Good. Here’s a closer look at live chat and in-app chat and the nature of communication that each one supports.

What is live chat?

When you come across a website or app that gives you the opportunity to communicate with support agents in real time via chat windows you’re experiencing live chat.

Common features of live chat tools are:

  • Communicate with Sales/Support - Users of your app can instant message with members of your team

  • Prompt User Interaction - Members of your team can prompt user interaction with pop-up chat boxes or wait for users to proactively reach out with questions or concerns.

  • Reporting - Reporting and analytics based on the conversations

  • Notifications - Interactive chat notifications for your staff

  • Archive Conversations - Archiving conversations that your staff can view

In other words, live chat allows your users to communicate with you. It’s not intended to help your users communicate with each other. Live chat also puts most of the control of the conversation while it’s happening, and afterward, in your hands rather than your users.

When would you use live chat?

Live chat is typically used for sales and support purposes. Basically any cases where it’s helpful for a member of your team to communicate in real time with customers or potential users. Live chat is especially helpful in cases where frequently asked questions or knowledge centers alone are not sufficient.

Here are some cases where live chat makes a lot of sense:

  • Customer Questions - Put live chat on your product pages to answer any questions that your visitors have about that product.

  • Help Visitors Navigate - Use live chat to reach out to segmented visitors coming to your blog to figure out what information they are looking for.

  • Collect feedback - Use live chat to collect feedback in a conversational format on post purchase thank you pages.

  • Connect with potential customers - Use live chat on your pricing pages to allow your sales team to answer price questions and connect with potential new customers.

For example, ProductCollective uses live chat to provide visitors the opportunity to ask questions about the site, which provides insight into what product management related information people might be seeking.


Who provides live chat?

There are several companies that provide live chat solutions. Both of the examples above use products from Intercom. Other companies include Podium, Zendesk Support Suite, Zoho Desk, and Freshdesk.

If you think that live chat will fit your needs, you may want to try out one of those providers, or go to this overview of the best live chat software to help you make your selection.

What is in-app chat?

In-app chat tools allow your users to communicate synchronously, or asynchronously, with each other.

‍Think of it along the same lines as having the direct message capabilities of Slack embedded right in your app. Users can carry on conversations with each other or your team via text, voice, or video calling.

Common features of in-app chatting apps include:

  • Peer-to-peer messaging - Users of your app can chat with each other in real time, or asynchronously.

  • Media attachments - Users can supplement their conversations with videos, photos, and other files.

  • Push notification - Notifications of new messages in the chat thread.

  • Voice & video calling - Messaging apps can expand past text chat to include voice and video.

  • Group chat - multiple users can create a group chat to exchange ideas with each other.

In other words, chat tools provide a great deal more flexibility for user communication in that they can communicate with you, and with each other.

When would you use in-app chat?

Here are some cases where in-app chat makes a lot of sense:

  • Virtual events where your users see value in connecting with each other and networking.

  • Healthcare situations where it can be helpful for doctors and their patients to interact.

  • Online marketplaces where buyers and sellers need to be able to communicate with each other to close the deal.

  • Online social communities such as gaming communities where your users want to trash talk

  • Online dating sites where your users want to get to know each other better after matching

  • On-demand services such as Uber where passengers need to be able to sync up with drivers.


Who provides in-app chat?

We do. Us. CometChat!!

If your app supports a community, a marketplace, or other case where your users want to interact with each other, then a messaging tool is for you and CometChat is your best bet! CometChat provides a simple, secure and scalable experience for your developers and your users.

Contact us to schedule a demo or simply learn more about how CometChat’s simple, reliable and scalable in-app messaging solutions can quickly solve your needs

Kent J McDonald


Kent J McDonald writes about and practices software product management. He has IT and product development experience in a variety of industries including financial services, health insurance, nonprofit, and automotive. Kent currently practices his craft with teams in a variety of industries and provides just in time resources for product people at and Product Collective. When not writing or product managing, Kent is his family’s #ubersherpa, listens to jazz and podcasts (but not necessarily podcasts about jazz), and collects national parks.

Try out CometChat in action

Experience CometChat's messaging with this interactive demo built with CometChat's UI kits and SDKs.