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This isn't by any means a new technique: it's a variation of Comet, specifically XHR long polling, and/or BOSH.
Having a large-number of long-running concurrent requests makes the Apache part of the standard LAMP stack a dubious implementation choice.
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Another challenge is ensuring the timely delivery of the messages themselves.
The project I'm currently working on, Facebook Chat, offered a nice set of software engineering challenges: The most resource-intensive operation performed in a chat system is not sending messages.
It is rather keeping each online user aware of the online-idle-offline states of their friends, so that conversations can begin.
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