When users view the profiles of their friends, they’ll now see an online status indicator next to that friend’s name. Similar to the Facebook Chat panel, a green dot means the user is actively online, a grey crescent moon means they’re online but idle, and an empty grey circle means they’re offline or have turned off Chat. Showing the online statuses of friends so prominently on profiles will remind users of the option to Chat, increasing usage of a feature that can boost time-on-site.
Facebook has experimented with where to display online status on the profile. At different times, it has has shown a link to initiate a Chat beneath the profile picture, and an online status indicator in the top right corner of the profile. Most recently prior to the current design, users would see a gray Chat button in to right of the profile.
Now the different online status indicator icons appear next to a friend’s name, or the name of the profile tab a user is currently viewing. When hovered over, icons reveal text labels denoting their meaning.
Facebook’s Messages product formats direct communication between users as Chat if a recipient is online, and as a Message if the recipient is offline. The online status indicator no longer signals what medium the sender should use, as this is irrelevant, and instead it signals through which medium will communication be received. In this case, the indicator will help inform senders whether or not they should expect an immediate response.
However, this same information is implicitly conveyed if a user clicks to send a Message to an available friend and is directed to the Chat window, or tries to Chat an unavailable friend and is notified that their Chat will be delivered to the recipient’s Message inbox.
Therefore, the prominent placement of the online status indicator is probably an attempt on Facebook’s part to increase the number of Chats and Messages sent. Now when a user clicks through to a friend’s profile from a photo or news feed update, they’ll immediately be shown whether they can instantly communicate with that friend. In this way, the green icon serves as an invitation to Chat.
Facebook only launched Chat in 2008, years after Gmail, MSN, and AOL established themselves as instant message platforms. Until mid 2010, there were significant stability issues with Chat that left a negative public impression that the feature is still trying to recover from. The move of the online status indicator may be Facebook’s announcement that Chat is ready to become a more central part of the service’s experience, and that users shouldn’t forget about it.