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Chat for the win!

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Facebook chat has quietly conquered everyone else running chat software, almost without trying. Why did Facebook succeed at beating out dedicated services that had been in the game longer and had dedicated platforms?

These days most of my chatting goes on via Facebook chat with a small minority on gChat. Though I was once a frequent AIM and IRC user, I no longer have any communication through those services. Facebook has handily taken over my lines of communication. I hear the same from others as well. So what has been the secret to their success?

1. Normal people don’t want software anymore.

I suspect a combination of reasons, compounding viruses, add-ware, complex install screens and root-kits. However, no matter what the reason is, people just do not just free software anymore. Chat services like AIM only have themselves to blame, in trying to make a profit they loaded down installs with hidden ads, toolbars and other nefarious advertising tactics.

It’s now almost difficult to tell the difference between a ‘legitimate’ AIM install and a virus, they practically act the same.

Then there is the delayed satisfaction issue. Simply put, people want to click a link and have whatever was promised, right there, working in front of them. Thus the success of the App Store.

In the end, people are living more and more of their lives through web sites instead of having their digital interactions mediated by single-use software. This is the reason Chrome has met such success.


SAN FRANCISCO - NOVEMBER 15:  Facebook founder...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

2. Anonymity isn’t worth the trouble.

If you’ve ever used AIM you likely had the same beginning of a conversation anywhere from twice a month to twice a week, it went something like this:

SomeDude334: Hey man, how are you?
Me: Oh, I’m doing pretty good, how are you doing?
SomeDude334: Can’t complain, I’ve been busy.
Me: You know I’m blanking out right now, sorry, but who are you?

Simply put, your real id is an extremely useful thing to have at the top of a chat window. I can’t imagine how much time I wasted trying to politely determine who the heck I was talking to. The real you is your new avatar and, though some portions of the internet are putting up significant resistance, the internet is slowly moving  towards making this a universal truth. Facebook and Twitter sign-ins make it even easier to bring your real identity with you.

3. Communication is more useful as a layer than standing alone.

In case you missed it: Google Wave. Yes, it could be confusing and exclusive, but the real problem it had (along with Buzz) was that it tried to exist as a stand-alone product inside Google’s ecosystem of layered communications. Simply put, we are too ADD to have our focus forced into a little box. We want chat as part of an experience that allows us to simultaneously skim profiles and newsfeeds.

4. The average user doesn’t care about the past.

Unless they are hiding it really well, Facebook chat doesn’t archive conversations. If someone chats at you and you have Facebook open on two different windows you may lose it. While power users love archiving and the reference it provides the average user doesn’t care about the past.

The internet continues to not care about the past everywhere, look at Twitter’s failure to usefully archive tweets. Most users just don’t care, for them only the present and the future matter.

5. Leveraging your user network is everything.

More than anything else, Facebook chat succeeds because they take your existing network and give you more ways to interact with that network. When I asked my Facebook friends why they used Facebook chat, Michael Gryboski had one of the most revealing answers.

I seldom use instant messaging. That is until not long after I got a Facebook account and I started to use their chat system.

I think I prefer it to AOL instant messaging because for me at least far more of my immediate friends and acquaintances are on Facebook at a given time than AOL IM. That might be more of my fault than the fault of the system [...]

Facebook chat’s greatest success was bringing in people like Michael who had not chatted before until it became a natural evolution from their other interactions with their friends on the site.

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  1. Norb@Best PC Utilities on Tuesday 15, 2011

    Same goes to me, I also switched to Facebook Chat subconsciously from Windows Live Messenger. I think the reason why Facebook Chat is gaining population is due to the success of Facebook social networking, where people usually go on Facebook at least once a day. Inevitably, you chat with your friends in Facebook whenever you saw your friends go online. The probability of your friends appearing online on Facebook is also much higher than any other Instant Messaging services because Facebook is the most frequently visited site in the world. Just my two cents ;)