Facebook has just turned on Chat in a “few networks” (including mine) this morning and I think it’s a great implementation. While Facebook hasn’t announced an official rollout schedule, Chat will be gradually rolling out over the coming days.
Facebook has added a new Chat bar to the bottom of the page that’s always present everywhere on the site. (It’s there by default, and you’re not able to hide it.) The Chat bar gives you access to your current chat windows, online friends list, notifications, chat settings, and your online status.
1) Chat Windows
When a new chat comes in, Facebook highlights the conversation in the Chat bar with a red bubble.
You can then click on that conversation to open up a chat window with your friend.
You can then minimize the chat window to get it out of the way. If you close a chat window accidentally, you can view recent chat history by opening a chat window with that same friend. Although recent chats are saved across sessions, older chat conversations are NOT archived. You can click “clear chat history” to clear the chat window immediately at any time.
Overall, the Chat bar works very smoothly and with a lot of ajaxy goodness. But if you have a lot of conversations going on, you can also pop out your chats into their own window:
The popout window uses tabs on the right to select between conversations, but doesn’t allow each conversation to have its own window like many desktop chat applications do. It’s a bit bulky, but it does allow you to alt-tab over to your chats even if you don’t want to be on Facebook.com.
2) Online Friends List
The Online Friends list shows you who amongst your Facebook friends 1) are currently active on the site, and 2) were recently active but are now idle. There are no “buddy lists” to set up (though Friend Lists are coming soon) – all your Facebook friends appear here automatically.
Unlike most legacy chat networks, Facebook friends always show up with their real name – not “soccergrrl1984.” Only your confirmed Facebook friends show up here – you’re not able to chat with anyone else on the site.
Facebook has integrated Status Updates into your presence snapshot into the Online Friends list. This should increase the volume of Status Updates published tremendously.
Overall, keeping the Online Friends list open throughout your Facebook session makes Facebook a much more engaging real-time communication experience. I think this means a lot more people will be leaving Facebook open all day 🙂
3) Notifications & Feed Items
With the launch of chat, Facebook has moved the access point to notifications from the top of the right rail of the home page to the Chat Bar.
Facebook is also pulling other features from the site “into the real-time chat world.” For example, your Mini-Feed stories by default appear in chat windows. This means if you’re playing a game and chatting at the same time, your friends will know 🙂
4) Chat Settings & Online Status
If you don’t want to be accessible via chat when you’re on Facebook, you can easily “Go Offline.” This will prevent you from showing up in your friends’ “Online Friends” lists.
In addition, you can choose whether or not to 1) keep your Online Friends list open throughout your visit to the site, and 2) whether or not you want Mini-Feed stories to appear inside your chat windows.
If you need help, Facebook has provided a simple FAQ for you as well.
Facebook Chat is a very compelling experience that will spell trouble for legacy IM networks that haven’t built vibrant social networks around their friend lists (i.e. AIM). By making Facebook more real time/presence oriented, Facebook session length should go up a lot. Facebook will become an important player in IM very soon.
What does Chat mean for developers? Currently, Facebook does not support Platform integration with Chat, though a couple of weeks ago Facebook’s Matt Cohler indicated that adding Chat APIs (and Jabber support) is in their plans. Obviously, just like Facebook, developers are interested in finding additional ways to engage their users.
For a few developers like social.im, Facebook Chat is obviously a big blow. While social.im continues to focus on building a desktop client, if Facebook doesn’t allow apps to integrate with the core Facebook chat service, it’s going to be extremely challenging for third parties to gain a critical mass of users.