When Facebook's chat functionality debuted at the beginning of the month, I wasn't immediately interested. After all, adding a chatroom-like function to a social network largely comprised of students, family and casual friends isn't exactly a world premiere of revolutionary innovation. But, this evening, it wasn't Twitter or FriendFeed that helped me directly connect to a colleague, but Facebook's chat to the rescue. Its simple design, offering basic functionality, is, in my opinion, a real win for the site.
Now, when logging in to Facebook, a small horizontal bar fills the bottom of the browser window, showing Online Friends and a (#) showing the number who are online at the same time as you and are ready for chat. To start a chat is simple, by clicking the Online Friends tab, click a friend and a small mini-window extends from the chat bar.
This evening, a colleague and I walked through the demo of a new site, traded ideas, and quickly accomplished what usually would have taken a phone call, or a series of e-mails. Facebook's ability to know that I was logged in, and cross-reference my status with those of my Facebook friends, made the conversation possible, and has me thinking other sites, like Twitter or FriendFeed, would be wise to consider adding similar functionality that displays what other friends are online and ready to strike up conversation.
I'm still not a huge Facebook fan, and probably use about 5% of the network's features, but now, when logging in, one of the first things I'll be doing is checking the "Online Friends" tab and seeing who would be interesting to talk to. It just works, simply and cleanly, the way it should.