I was fortunate enough to seed one of Newsvine's top stories today, "Apple launches 1GB iPod nano", which got a lot of votes (75 as of the time I am writing this) and comments.
I decided to take a look at Newsvine's chat feature, and I have to admit that I was really skeptical about it at first. I have seen web-based chat systems come and go over the last ten years, and not one of them was easy to use, fast or stable.
The first impression I got when I actually started the chat on my seed, hoping that others would follow my lead because of the high number of votes this story had, until I discovered that Newsvine actually has a "Most Chatters" feature on the front page whenever there is a chat going on. It does not always display the correct number of chatters online, but it gives you an indication of where there is a chat in progress. Also, as you can see in the top-most image on the right hand side, the number of chatters is shown in the article summary, whereever it appears.
So even if your story does not have a high number of votes or comments, if there are chatters discussing your seed or post, this will drive attention and more interested parties into your chat - and it actually works. I initiated the chat, and within just a couple of minutes, three other people joined. Most of them were of course curious about the chat feature itself, but we quickly got around to discuss the news.
From a technical standpoint, I think the Newsvine team has done a great job in implementing this feature. It integrates well with the rest of the system, it does not need to download a big Java application like other web-based chat solutions, and it works as advertised. The chat system initiated a TCP connection to port 5222 when I started it, so my guess is that they built it using the Jabber protocol (the same protocol Google Talk uses), which - in my experience - is a solid foundation for most communication purposes.
The only glitch I noticed was that the chat window would not always scroll to the bottom-most line by itself, but other than this, I think the chat feature is solid and will become very popular as Newsvine grows.
Update: CheeseHead took a look at the XML output and confirmed that this is actually based on Jabber - that saves me the tcpdump, thanks. :-)
Update II: CheeseHead found out that connecting with a regular Jabber client works, although we have not yet found a way to use the Newsvine username and password. We already contacted the Newsvine team about this to make sure that this is not a security hole they want fixed.