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Facebook Chat: IM for the real world

The new Facebook Chat is great for freaking out your technophobic friends. "Arrghh! Where is this electronic Nick voice coming from?" responded one of my dimmer buddies.

If you've been on Facebook since yesterday morning -- and you will have, unless you're one of those poor, deluded refuseniks -- you'll have noticed the new Chat bar at the bottom of your browser. One of your friends might even have tried it out on you. "Arrghh! Where is this electronic Nick voice coming from?" responded one of my dimmer buddies.

For reasons long since forgotten, everyone at CNET uses Yahoo IM. Of course, no one else I know uses YIM, I can't be bothered to figure out how to add MSN contacts and most of my friends don't use either anyway. My girlfriend isn't allowed to install programs on her work computer, for instance, so we have to use email. Yawn. Facebook Chat solves all this nonsense at a stroke -- all my friends (except the bloody refuseniks) are available on the same system.

Sort of. As I write, only eight of my Facebook friends are online, that is, they've got Facebook open and are willing for people to talk to them (you can easily set Chat to make you appear offline). Three of them are idle, so they've probably got it open in a tab, but won't notice if I message them -- the tab changes its text from 'Facebook' to 'New message' quite rapidly, in a bid to catch your attention, but it doesn't work terribly well. You can pop Chat out into a separate window, but the window doesn't flash on the taskbar when you've got a new message, so you have to keep looking at it.

There are other limitations -- there's no archive function and the emoticons are terrible, for a start. Still, mustn't grumble. This is an easy-to-use way of talking in real time to a huge number of people who are otherwise out of range of the wonders of IM. "It really is turning into the ultimate office time-waster," said one of them. <:-p, as we say here at CNET.