19 July 2011

Facebook Chat moves to the sidebar

Try out Facebook Chat in the sidebarAfter a week of vacation away from desktop browsing, , and the likes, there was bound to be some changes to the applications I use more or less daily. Apart from the introduction of profiles in Canary by default – which is still rough and with very ugly icons, I noticed another small change in Facebook: the chat has been moved to a dedicated sidebar on the right. The update is not exactly new, as it was announced a couple of weeks ago together with the partnership with Skype for video calling, but it’s only now being rolled out to users.

The new sidebar is fixed on the right side, so there’s no scrolling past it – like the sidebars in . The effect can be confusing, because there is a scrollbar to the far right, that doesn’t scroll the sidebar right next to it as you would expect, but instead the main window contents. Also the chat sidebar follows you around everywhere on Facebook – even on help pages – and sometimes it hides the scrollbar completely, for example when looking at photos in ‘theater’ mode. I guess it still needs some fine-tuning. It reminds me somehow of the screenshots I saw of RockMelt, the browser with deep Facebook integration.

Which friends appear in the sidebar? Can I add specific friends?
The list of friends in your sidebar is based on who you’ve interacted with most frequently or recently on Facebook. Since it updates dynamically, you can’t manually add friends to the list.
The list shows both friends who are available to chat and friends who aren’t. Clicking on a friend’s name opens a chat window. If your friend isn’t available to chat, you can still send messages for them to read later. Facebook Help Center

Since you can now send offline messages as well, the sidebar is actually an extension of the New Facebook Messages rather than simply chat. As for the list of friends being based on the people you interact frequently, hmm… I just don’t see it in my own list. Facebook appears to actually choose them more or less randomly and order them alphabetically. There is no support for friends lists on the visible sidebar, but you can set your availability based on the defined lists, for example to show up as online only for a couple of lists; that however won’t stop those friends from seeing you in their chat sidebar or sending you offline messages. You can still search names in the small search box at the bottom, but this can become a nuisance if you have a large list of friends. But then again, people with thousands of friends are unlikely to communicate with all of them on a regular basis.

I don’t use the feature that often – and most of the time when I chat, I use a desktop client, Trillian Astra, to stay connected – so the change isn’t very useful to me. Fortunately, the sidebar recognizes the width of your browser window and only shows up when it’s presence doesn’t interfere with the other elements on the screen. For me on a wide screen it only pops up when the browser covers almost the entire width of the screen, so a lot of users will probably never see the sidebar under these conditions. Also, the sidebar can be disabled from the small setup menu on the lower right, by choosing the option ‘Hide Sidebar’. When you do, the old-style grid of online friends reappears on the home page. Finally a Facebook update that can be easily fixed!

1 comment:

  1. There’s a script that I’ve found (http://mediamonstrosity.com/2011/07/19/get-old-facebook-chat-back/ ) that will get it back to how it was before, but anyway I’ve only heard of 1 or 2 people that actually like the new chat sidebar. I hope they change it back to how it was because now I can’t really see who’s online without a lot more steps.