At the end of September, Microsoft began allowing Hotmail users in the US and five other large markets to Facebook Chat with their friends from within Hotmail. Now Microsoft has rolled out access to users in all countries, but only up to 1000 of a user’s friends are imported, preventing users from seeing whether some friends are online or sending them messages.
The addition of Facebook Chat functionality could help Hotmail compete against Gmail, which the postnotes doesn’t include the ability. Meanwhile, Hotmail home page notifications about the newfound ability will expose Facebook to the Microsoft email service’s web 1.0 audience.
Microsoft has been moving to capitalize on the poor relationship between Facebook and its competitor Google by integrating the social network’s data and features into several of its products. Windows Live allows uses to read and publish to their news feed, Bing search offers Facebook Instant Personalization, and the new version of Bing Bar toolbar that launched last week includes Facebook notifications, photos, and friend requests.
Facebook integration has already been getting results. As part of the announcement, Microsoft noted that 20 million Windows Live accounts have now been connected to Facebook — a trend we’ve been tracking for many months, as the app has grown to be one of the largest on the platform.
Microsoft Messenger users can already use Facebook Chat through a desktop application, the Messenger iPhone application, and a Facebook application. Windows Live Messenger for Facebook is the third-largest Facebook application by daily active user count with 13.7 million DAU according to AppData. Only Zynga’s CityVille and FarmVille are larger going by that metric. Earlier this month, Microsoft announced that Messenger has powered a total of 2.8 billion minutes of Facebook Chat.
To use Facebook Chat, Hotmail users must connect their Facebook account to Windows Live and check the “Chat with my Facebook friends in Messenger” box. The second step of the Hotmail account registration flow is now the Connect screen with all Facebook sharing enabled by default, underscoring Microsoft’s focus on getting users to link their accounts.
Once connected, Facebook friends will appear in the bottom left sidebar of the Hotmail inbox in the list of a user’s Messenger contacts. Just like on Facebook, users show a green icon next to their name if they are actively online.
Unfortunately, Hotmail only imports up to 1000 of a user’s Facebook friends as contacts, so if you have more than 1000 friends you won’t see their online status or have the option to initiate a Facebook Chat with them. If you receive a Facebook Chat from one of these missing contacts, Hotmail says the instant message is from “Someone on Facebook”, not the person’s actual name, and there’s no way to instantly add them to your contacts.
Choosing to import email addresses from your Facebook account won’t necessarily find all of the missing contacts either. Not being able to see or send outbound Facebook Chats to some of your friends is major drawback for Hotmail. Even worse, most users won’t even notice that all their contacts weren’t imported, and will just assume these friends are never online.
One benefit of using Facebook Chat through Hotmail is native support for emoticons. Millions of Facebook users install browser add-ons such as Facemoods to gain the ability to select from graphical emoticons to include in their instant messages.
Microsoft will need to fix the contact importing limit if it wants Facebook users to switch from keeping a Facebook window open to spending more time on Hotmail. Still, the integration gives Hotmail one advantage over Gmail and will keep the service relevant to a younger user base while offering its older audience to Facebook.