How Facebook Could Upgrade Their Chat Service

Daniel is an expert on Facebook Application design and owns the Facebook Download, Chit Chat for Facebook.
Having been in the instant messaging landscape for just 2 years, Facebook has achieved significant market share with its ‘Facebook Chat’. Indeed, according to Facebook’s own statistics, Facebook users send over 1 billion instant messages a day. Since the release of Facebook Chat, Facebook has in effect rewritten the rule book by which instant messengers for the last decade competed.

Why Has Facebook Chat Had Such A Significant Impact?

Although Facebook’s Chat service may appear minimalist, at best to the average user, Facebook have captured significant market share principally due to the following:

  1. Social Connections – Facebook users have established more complete friendship relations on Facebook than on their previously favoured instant messenger.
  2. Duality Of Purpose – If you sign into your traditional instant messenger (i.e. AIM/Windows Live Messenger), you sign in for the purpose of ‘chatting.’ With Facebook, however, many people with login simply to see what their friends have been up to, to change their status or update their profile. As a result, Facebook has become the number one website in terms of traffic, thus most people find that more of their friends are logged into Facebook than their instant messenger of choice.
  3. Opt Out – Facebook forced its chat functionality upon its entire user base. Users need to set their instant messaging functionality to offline if they wish to turn off Facebook Chat.
  4. Mobile Phones – Facebook is extremely popular on Mobiles, as such, so is Facebook Chat.
  5. Connectivity – Facebook has made use of the Jabber protocol allowing other instant messengers to connect to it Facebook Chat. Consequently, users whom prefer to use a desktop instant messenger such as ICQ can add Facebook Chat contacts to their instant messenger. Additionally, third party dedicated instant messenger such as Chit Chat for Facebook have emerged. Desktop instant messengers such as Chit Chat, tend to have the advantage of supporting more features. Chit Chat for example supports chat history, emoticons, text formatting and status alerts.
  6. Recognition Standardisation – Facebook users typically user their own identity – i.e. forename and surname. Traditional instant messengers allow for the customisation of both email, and username making it difficult to identify users whom customize both aspects without using their real name.

While other instant messengers have been engaging in feature warfare, offering users the ‘latest and greatest’ feature in each release. Facebook on the over hand has leveraged its greatest advantage – social connections. Facebook has demonstrated that what really matters to instant messaging users is being able to talk to their friends – not features.

What Should Be Next For Facebook Chat?

Facebook chat isn’t perfect, below are the top three aspects I believe that Facebook needs to improve on:

  • Stability – Facebook Chat still isn’t 100% stable. Many users complain about Facebook Chats propensity to blank out previous existing messages or for a recipient to lose instant messages without informing the sender of a problem. Using a desktop instant messenger such as ICQ or Chit Chat mitigates much of this problem.
  • Real Time Status Connectivity – Facebook Chat doesn’t report user sign in or sign outs in real time. As a result, when you log in to Facebook it can take up to three minutes for all of your friends to be able to see you online on their buddy list. Similarly, when you log out – your Facebook friends won’t see their buddy list update immediately, making it possible for them to send you an instant message that you won’t receive.
  • Bug Fixes – There are many reported glitches that Facebook needs to fix.

Facebook Chat, although popular, has already garnered a bad reputation for stability and connectivity. Such fixes will need to be resolved before most people are prepared to adopt Facebook Chat as their primary instant messaging platform.