Chit Chat: Instant Messenger for Facebook

It took me a while to sign up for Facebook. Amid concerns about their Terms of Service, I figured it’d be just as well to avoid it. Finally I broke down due to an anomalous influx of extremely attractive women asking me to join. Actually it had less to do with any such perceived excess of women. I wanted to stay in touch with friends since I moved to the middle of nowhere for a couple months.

As it turns out, Facebook quickly become a mainstay in my life. It’s a great way to stay in touch with old friends as well as connect with new. Sure it has its pitfalls, such as whether you should add coworkers or not, or family members. Sometimes you don’t want people nosing into your personal life. All that aside, it’s great. I got in touch with an old coach from High School coach recently. Whenever I meet someone new I almost immediately add them as a friend.

There’s one feature to Facebook that I turned off after one usage- the chat utility. I tried chatting, but it’s a weak substitute for my preferred chat interface, Yahoo Messenger. What I like about Yahoo Instant Messenger is being able manage my chat sessions. Having full control of the windows which I can resize as much as I like. It’s great. Facebook’s chat has a small little window with even smaller font size. It’s modestly functional in a half hearted sort of way. That’s where Chit Chat for Facebook comes in. They built a standalone application to heal my Facebook chatting woes.

Finally Chatting with Facebook Friends

And so I embarked on a quest to fill the void left by Facebook’s meager chat feature. Nervously I downloaded the Chit Chat for Facebook instant messenger. I succeeded in installing it and fired it up for the first time. Briefly I entered some painfully awkward demographic information which I’m sure they passed along to various government agencies. I entered my login info with my freshly changed password. And just like that, I was chatting with my Facebook friends in style.

The chatting itself was fairly predictable, though it was slightly different than the chat applications I’m used to. It gives you one chat window with tabs for each person you’re talking with. I always love it when a company comes out with a slightly new concept. The status bar shows you when someone is in the process of sending you a message. There’s a color coded circle by each person’s name. Green indicates they’re online, red is offline and yellow means you have a message waiting. When people come on or offline there’s a message on the bottom right of the screen notifying you of the event. I have to say, finding a useful Facebook Messenger made chatting with my friends actually fun. It was easy to keep up with multiple chat sessions, and for the first time I felt like I was connecting with them. Writing on people’s walls or sending messages can never replace a good quality chat.

I have some observations about the product as a whole. Firstly, I think it’s high time someone built this. Logging into Facebook can be hazardous. Before you know it a few hours can go by. I have friends addicted to various micro ‘games’ within it. I put quotes around games since, the one that I tried, Mafia Wars, creates this fake world where you have money or credits or something. If you run out then you need to be blasted by a bevy of advertisements in order to get it going again. I’m a big fan of various clever marketing schemes, but this one is just lame. I recall that if I signed up for an Adult Dating website I could carry on with the Mafia Wars thing. It’s the least subtle marketing tactic ever, not to mention there’s absolutely no correlation between Mafia Wars and any of the advertisements.

Sometimes it might be nice to chat with the people in your life without being distracted by everything else on Facebook. Chit Chat’s new Facebook Messenger does that. Despite coming out with a great tool, I have a few observations about things that might be improved. The most bothersome is the blatant attempt to extract demographic information from me. I’m all for using a new product, but requiring me to enter superfluous personal info straight out the gate is a little much. I much prefer if it’s optional. The prompt could also say something like, “To help us better meet your needs please provide the following information.” Requesting too much info too fast is like getting too close and personal with someone on a date. It can blow the whole thing out of the water.

I did encounter a few anomalies that could be worked through with chatting itself. Bear in mind the product is still in the RC stage. These are listed as follows:

  • When people come online or offline the notification window causes my typing in the chat window to hiccup. This could be smoothed out a bit so it doesn’t interfere with the chatting.
  • If my status is offline in Facebook, then all my friends will be offline within Chit Chat’s interface.
  • Apparently Facebook’s chat server is known for having brief disruptions to their service. I hit one of these and was booted from Chit Chat straight away. Yahoo Instant Messenger handles connectivity issues by attempting to reconnect for a period of time before giving up. I’d like to see Chit Chat do the same.
  • Emoticons aren’t currently working. Fortunately I was able to find the complete list of Facebook emoticons in the event Chit Chat elects to implement them.
  • My window resizing efforts were limited to the default size and the whole screen. It doesn’t let you resize it by dragging the corner of the window.
  • Another quirk, though I might call it a blessing, is that it logs you out of Facebook when you’re logged into chat. Facebook only allows one connection per account at a time.
  • When I logged back into Facebook, all the chats that I had just finished were there. I just closed them, but it’s a minor peculiarity.

Chit Chat’s website could handle a few rearrangements as well. The front page has no less than six links to download the product. Some might call that overkill. They actually went so far as to booby trap the download navigation menu tab as a link to download the product as well. I think it’s safe to get rid of the download link within the navigation menu, and the text links as well. You see, I found this humongous Download button on the home page. Most people won’t miss it. One note about it though, it needs to be placed higher on the page.

Big Unmissable Download Button
Big Unmissable Facebook Chat Download Button

I also noticed that the Media Contact Enquiries is on the Info page. I propose it only be on the Contact page. Similarly, both the Contact and Info pages have the logo downloads. They seem to fit best on the Info page only. Along with that, only the first logo download is currently working. The other two are dead links. For those looking for another dead link, the help option within the client application has a nice one too.

One thing I love about early stage products are the strange oddities that come with them. My favorite with Facebook Chat is the Check for Updates option.  When you click on it it goes to a working web directory. Within that directory is a single file labeled version.htm. Upon opening this file it reveals the contents, “1.1.” Then I went back to the About menu selection within the chat client and it tells me I have 1.0. Apparently I need to upgrade, though it doesn’t quite work yet.

Like all applications the time may come for us to part and uninstall the product. My biggest pet peeve with software applications is faulty or non existent uninstall processes. Facebook Chat does fairly well, in that they removed all the files from Program Files. They did leave behind some registry residue though. I come from a Unix/Linux background and love the ability to completely clean a box of all traces of a product. I don’t know how feasible this is in Windows but to whatever degree possible, I’m all for it. No worries though. Secretly I fantasize about crashing my computer due to manual edits I make to the registry.

Chit Chat for Facebook is a great instant messaging tool for those looking for an alternative to Facebook’s chat utility. The interface is new and refreshing in that it keeps each chat session on a different tab. Smoothing out the online/offline notifications would be helpful as well as adding emoticon recognition. I’d also like a passive reconnect process rather than fail once and give up. All told, this is a great utility with a lot of potential. It allowed me to finally enjoy chatting with the many friends and family I’m connected to on Facebook.

SlapBack from ChitChat:

  • A skip button will be added to the demographic information request
  • Messaging will also be changed
  • Connection improvements are being developed
  • Emoticons are being added in the next build
  • Resizing is being fixed in the next build
  • Chat history will be better managed in the build after next