Facebook is rolling out its first Chat application to let its nearly 68 million users ping each other in real time.
The application, which the company will roll out slowly this week, is geared to provide a speedier communication mode than the popular social network's Wall and Inbox.
The approach echoes moves from Microsoft, Yahoo and Google, which all began offering chat applications after their Webmail applications gained momentum.
Josh Wiseman, an engineering lead at Facebook, wrote in a blog post April 6 users will soon notice that Chat bar at the bottom of their browsers. (Sadly, the Chat feature was not made available for this reporter's account).
But because it's a browser-based tool, users don't need to install or download the application, unlike Yahoo Messenger, Windows Messenger or even MySpaceIM. In this regard, Facebook Chat resembles Google Talk, as ReadWriteWeb's Sarah Perez notes here.
From the Chat bar users can view their list of Facebook friends and open conversations with any of them without setting up a buddy list. Moreover, users can "collapse" conversations to get them out of the way and go offline if they don't want to use Chat at all.
Facebook: Mini-Feed and Privacy Control a Priority
Wiseman said the Palo Alto, Calif., company is also working on pulling other features of the site into the Chat app. For example, users will be able to see their friends' Mini-Feed activity in Chat conversations.
However, users who don't want their Mini-Feed stories embedded into conversations can turn off the feature from the Mini-Feed privacy page or the Chat settings panel.
To further assuage users' worries about privacy, a common concern among Facebook users these days in the wake of the Beacon marketing tool hullabaloo, Wiseman said conversations are one-to-one and only between Facebook friends.
While the message history is saved from page to page it is not permanently logged and Facebook is providing a link in each conversation to wipe out the chat session.
The application comes as a panel of Gartner analysts is expected to hold a debate about whether Facebook should be banned in the workplace, a hot topic of conversation at a time employers are complaining their staffers are whiling away company time on social networks.
Gartner analysts will toy with the question at the Gartner Symposium ITexpo 2008 April 7 in Las Vegas.