How can you bridge the gap between the virtual world and the brick-and-mortar one? That's what the makers of the Meetro instant-messaging service hope to address. Sure, the Web connects us with people around the world, but hunkering over a keyboard is counterproductive if you're trying to meet people in the same room. Trying to help introduce strangers and to notify you when your buddies are around the corner, the Meetro beta IM tool detects and displays the locations of its users. It also lets you import contacts from its leading IM rivals, such as Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger with Voice, AIM, and ICQ.
Installing Meetro beta took us a couple of quick minutes in our Windows XP tests. We were grateful that the process didn't try to overwrite our browser settings by default or install extra unasked-for software, as is common with most messenger apps, including those from Windows Live, Yahoo, and AOL.
Meetro beta's very blue interface is uncomplicated, which is good. Metro is not yet a final product, but during our testing, it included a bunch of emoticons but no avatars, no links to other online toys, and no flashy ads. The Near and Friends tabs display the icons of other users. You can click on the bottom icons representing other IM brands to add your IM pals from MSN or Windows Live, Yahoo Messenger, AIM, and ICQ. We did so in a few minutes from our Windows XP PC. If you use Mac OSX, however, you won't be able to chat with users of other IM brands. Unfortunately, contacts imported from these third-party accounts don't include location data. Meetro beta also lets you import profile details from your MySpace account. This worked fine for our About, Movies, and Tagline text fields, but not for Books. And while MySpace offers its own messaging system, we wish that Meetro beta could import our MySpace contacts.
You can hover over a user's photo to view their age, location, and personal statement. Meetro can tell where you are by detecting the location of wireless access points in your area through their MAC addresses. Pick Report Location if users' place names don't appear. Worried about privacy? Meetro detects your location to within a quarter of a mile, so its servers don't store your exact geographic coordinates. And this app won't display your physical address to other users, so don't worry about an uninvited Meetro user knocking at your door. You can block unwanted contacts, of course. Still, should you fear a potential stalker, as with any online service that strangers can see, you'd be wise to be stingy with the personal details in your profile and photo.