New Facebook Chat: A Faster Way to Message?
The new layout for Facebook’s online chat is a feature that is being rolled out to select users, so you might not have seen it yet. This morning as I was using Facebook I saw a new sidebar appear on the right side of my Facebook interface. Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook engineers mentioned this upcoming design change in their recent live product announcement where they announced the new Video Calling feature.
The new layout allows users with enough browser width (I can see it on a 13″ Macbook) to see a large sidebar displaying all friends currently online.
Here is a section from Facebook’s guide to using the chat sidebar, which explains how to tell if a friend is available or not:
Why the Change?
In his video calling announcement on the 6th, Zuckerberg mentioned the need for an easier way to access people currently online while you are using Facebook. I can’t help but compare Facebook chat to Google’s Gmail chat, which I have used much more than Facebook chat. It’s just easier.
But now, especially compared to the small mash-up of thumbnail images of online friends that used to appear in the left column, the new Facebook chat layout is much more user-friendly. I can actually see a list of my most frequently messaged friends, and search by name for other people I might want to talk to.
Chat and Messaging Coming Together
When I click on a friend’s name, a separate box appears with not only our chat history, but also our messaging history.
If a friend is not online, I can use this box to send them a message instead.
Facebook is bringing chat and messaging together seamlessly. Video Calling is also now a part of the mix. When I try to video chat with someone who is not online, I can opt to send them a video message instead.
What about Privacy?!?!
If you are like me, one of the main reasons that you do NOT use Facebook chat, is because you only have a selected number of friends that you actually want to talk to. I usually turn off chat for this very reason. But there is a feature in chat that allows you to be visible as “online” to only a select list of friends. And this feature is NOT new. However, I plan to start using it now that the chat interface is much better.
In order to change your online visibility, you must open the chat sidebar, and, at the very bottom of the screen, click on the Options icon in the far right corner. It looks like a mechanical cog:
Then you will see several options that will change your visibility to other Facebook users. You can make yourself completely unavailable, which will allow you to use Facebook as usual without ever having a friend try to start a conversation with you. You can also hide the sidebar completely from this menu.
But if you DO want to chat, and want to be visible just to your select group of friends, you can limit your availability from here as well. To do this, you will need to utilize lists. Choose the lists that you want to become “available” to, and you will have the option of turning these lists on an off in the future.
Here is Facebook’s excellent resource that explains how to create and manage lists. Lists are a useful resource to utilize because they allow you to sort more than just chat. You can also use lists to invite larger groups to events, and to sort your newsfeed for information that is more relevant to you.
If you choose to hide the chat sidebar, you will still see chat appear in the old location, in the left column of your homepage. But there is a new button that you can click to re-activate the sidebar:
For more info, check out Facebook’s Help Page on this topic: How to use the Sidebar