FriendVox has been on my radar for a few weeks now, and I finally gave it a go this morning. Its purpose is to link up to your list of Facebook friends and act as a go-between for on-the-spot instant messaging. The entire app runs in a set of small pop-up windows, and once you've given it the good graces of accessing your Facebook data, that's all it takes to get started. Considering Facebook doesn't yet have its own official IM solution, third-party developers are trying their best to come up with their own using the tools Facebook made available earlier this year.
FriendVox avoids going with the virtual desktop route like Mosoto, which I played with in its early stages, and other Web chat services such as Meebo, Mundu, and Yahoo Web messenger. The result is a good deal of clutter, unless you're good at managing your windows. For those that are willing to stick it out, you'll get a hard line to any of your friends who are using the service at the same time. Anyone who's not simply shows up with their name grayed out in a separate list. Clicking a buddy's name opens up a new window with very basic IM functionality that's about as functional as AOL's AIM Express, with emoticons and text-formatting options.
In addition to its basic IM functionality, FriendVox includes some helpful notification features, like letting you know if you've got new pokes, group and friend requests, or messages in your inbox. It also shows everyone's status update feed, including your own, which can be updated in the same window with a separate authorization. FriendVox ties in with a really cool service called Socialistics, which provides several neat data visualizations to track friends and their Facebook activity. In its current iteration on FriendVox, you can see all their names in a large tag cloud, with the bigger names being those you have more activity with. If a name is darkened, it means they're online and you can begin a chat with them right away by clicking their name.
I'm impressed with FriendVox's minimalistic approach to getting people in the door. The service requires little in the way of user know-how to operate. Where it really takes a beating, though, is speed, as IM conversations are incredibly laggy, and pulling up your buddy list (which has no quick-launch tool from within Facebook) takes a noticeably long amount of time--something I assume is simply a scaling issue with its servers. Visually it's also not as appealing as Mosoto's efforts, and is missing some of those really cool features such as file sharing and a built-in music player. Again, I appreciate the idea of giving people a simple and focused tool.
I like seeing services like this pop up, but part of me wonders if it's even worth creating a new IM network for Facebook when so many of its users already have identities on other established networks. Considering Facebook already has a tool that will find your friends based on your IM credentials, there's the potential for something official in the near future. Ideally one of these third-party apps, or even Facebook could follow suit with something that can scrape together your friends' existing screen names and let you enjoy it alongside the rest of your social networking activities.