Facebook launched its much anticipated chat client on a few unspecified networks on April 5th. The chat service should shortly be available on other networks.
The service has been launched primarily on university networks, which was Facebook’s initial target market. The service is geared to keep users logged onto the social network longer, thereby increasing opportunities to sell more advertising on Facebook.
A new chat bar has been introduced at the bottom of the page, which will always be present by default. This bar enables users to access their online friends list, chat settings, current chat window, online status etc. The service is AJAX based and does not require users to install any new software.
Conversations get highlighted in the chat bar with a red bubble whenever a contact comes online and sends the user a message. A user interested in pursuing the conversation can then open up the chat window by clicking on it. To get out of it, one just needs to minimise the window. To reopen a particular conversation, the user can just reopen ‘recent chat history’ with the same contact.
Privacy concerns have been considered by the Facebook development team. The post on the Facebook blog announcing the launch of the chat service explains that recent chats are saved across login sessions but not permanently. Users can instantly delete message history by clicking on the ‘clear chat history’ link in a particular chat.
If several chats are going on simultaneously, the user can pop each chat into its own window. The pop out window has tabs on the right. Users can press the keyboard shortcut Alt+Tab to access the chat service even without being on Facebook.com.
The online friends list mentions which contacts are currently online, or were recently active. All Facebook friends are automatically entered here, but they are allowed only with their real names. No pseudonyms are allowed. Hence everyone is assured of making contact only with known persons.
Keeping the online friends list open will thus make for a very interesting session and people may end up keeping Facebook open all day long, according to Justin Smith at Inside Facebook. Facebook has now moved the access to notifications from the top right of the start page to the chat bar. Some other features from the site such as the mini feeds will also shortly be taken into the chat world. If a person does not wish to chat while on Facebook, they can just mark their status as offline. Similarly one can choose whether or not to keep the online friends list open, and also whether to allow mini feeds or not into their chat window.
Initial reactions to the service announcement have been largely negative, with most bloggers and users complaining about the numerous instant messaging services already available and the lack of need for yet another. Impressions of the chat service itself and its implementation within Facebook have been more positive.