While being frustrated by all of the various instant messaging clients available for mobile devices and PCs, I noticed that the majority of the people I know were often available on Facebook chat. I had been thinking about this for a while and recently I noticed the same thoughts expressed by Zack Wittaker over at Zdnet. There’s no need for Blackberry Messenger anymore, everybody you know is on Facebook and Facebook chat is supported by all major operating systems on smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers.
Blackberry Messenger only ever worked on Blackberry devices. You couldn’t instant message some one on a PC. Apple’s new “iMessage” feature in iOS5 aims to bring instant messaging to all of their iOS devices including WiFi-only iPads and iPod Touch devices. It still doesn’t have a web-based client, or PC client, or support on any other non-iOS device. It’s not even compatible with Apple’s own iChat on a Mac. I suppose one advantage is that little indicator that shows the other person whether you’ve read an instant message yet, but is that more important than actually being able to contact people regardless of what device they’re using?
Apple and Blackberry would like you to communicate only with people who own the same type of device that they’ve already sold to you. That’s why there’s such a market for things like WhatsApp, KIK, etc.–apps that let you send instant messages to other users with the same app but maybe not the same type of phone. Then there’s the originally PC-based instant messengers like AIM, Gtalk, Windows Live Messenger, and Skype which also integrate voice and video messaging, but aren’t so big in the mobile-device messaging arena. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a standard for instant messaging just like there’s a standard for email, phone calls, and text messaging?
Well there actually is a standard called XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol) and that’s exactly what Facebook chat uses. Anyone can make an IM client that interfaces with XMPP since it’s an open standard. Jabber and Gtalk also use XMPP for instant messaging, but there’s often no centralized server that communicates with all of these other networks which is why you can’t really IM Gtalk users from Facebook.
A number of the largest proprietary centralized-server type instant messaging networks have recently added Facebook chat support. Windows Live Messenger is one of the largest IM networks with about 330 Million active users and they’ve added some great Facebook integration last year. Even more recently, Skype and their 882 million user network has also started integrating with Facebook. Skype even enables video calling between Facebook chat users and Skype users. Facebook’s network is around 750 million users, but not everyone uses Facebook chat I guess so the number of instant messaging users there might be smaller. That should take care of a huge number of people on the PC based side. There are still a few million people using other instant messaging networks that aren’t compatible with Facebook just yet. AIM still has about 53 million users, Yahoo has 22 million, and ICQ has 4 million. Then there’s one large super power country that actually blocks Facebook from everyone who lives there, but they’ve got a nice Tencent QQ instant messaging network with about 448 million users.
What about mobile? Of course the iPhone’s Facebook app supports Facebook chat with push notifications so you can stay logged in at all times and receive messages as they arrive. The Android and Blackberry Facebook apps do the same. Actually, as I was writing this, Facebook released a new app for iPhone and Android called Facebook Messenger which makes it much easier for users to access Facebook chat in a dedicated app (along with Facebook group messaging and a few other cool features.)
Windows Phone 7.5 Mango has Facebook chat fully integrated right along side Windows Live Messenger and SMS/MMS text messaging along with the awesome speech UI for hands-free instant messaging. Yes, the speech UI works with Facebook chat in case that wasn’t clear. Palm’s Web OS 2.0 will have Facebook chat integrated with the messaging app as well (eventually). Even if you’re a die-hard old-school Windows Mobile 2003SE-6.5 user, you can get a Facebook chat program.
You might not want everyone who you’re friends with on Facebook to always be able to instant message you no matter where you are. Luckily on Facebook’s website you can create lists of people who you may want to appear online or offline to. When you log into Facebook on the web, the little chat bar has a settings button with an option to limit availability. From there you can turn on/off lists of people that you may or may not want to appear online to. You’ll have to go to Friends > Manage Friends first in order to create lists of people you may want to use in the chat permissions feature first though.
Is Facebook Chat cool enough to possibly be the world’s leading instant messaging platform?