Today, users of AOL Mail can start chatting from within their in-boxes, without having to open the AIM application. If you want to add this feature to your AOL Mail account, then visit beta.webmail.aol.com each time you log in, which will roll the new features into your existing AOL e-mail service. The changes are set to take effect later today. Gmail and Yahoo Mail beta both offer built-in chatting.
ooVoo is a free, standalone desktop chat application that has both a text and video chat capabilities. Its official launch is next week, but the beta has been available since mid April. I took it for a spin this morning and came away impressed.
There are a ton of chat clients out there, so one of the things it has done to differentiate itself is multiperson video chat. ooVoo can handle as many as six people in one video conference, which is two more than what iChat is capable of. Users can drop in and out of conversations, and the video windows will scale with a similar effect to iChat's "swoop." Along with video, users can chat among themselves with their computer's microphone or a headset. There are volume controls for both speakers and the microphone right in the chat window, a handy addition.
I found the video and audio to be fairly clear, even when topped off at six users. ooVoo's creators tell me that when running full six-user video, it will take up only half the bandwidth on a low-end DSL connection. Assuming you're not downloading or uploading large files in the background, your connection shouldn't drag to a halt.
In addition to live video and text chat, ooVoo doubles as a video e-mail service. Users can send each other video messages as long as a minute in length that are available right in the app or via e-mail. Users who get the e-mail are also provided a link that takes them to a live flash version of the video, so they can access it while away from their home machine.
For people interested in adding a quick way to be reached on their social networking profile or Web site, ooVoo gives users the option to embed a quick contact button that will automatically launch an ooVoo conversation if installed. I've posted an example image of this on the left side of this post.
ooVoo is not alone in the multiperson video chat space; competitor SightSpeed also offers a free video and text chat service. The main difference is that SightSpeed is aimed at businesses and limits video chat to four users at a time with a monthly subscription fee.
ooVoo is currently available only for Windows users, although the team is releasing a beta for Macs in about six weeks. Users on both platforms will be able to chat with one another using the same client.
Chat clients might be my favorite method for quick communication on my Mac at home or at work. Falling somewhere between the telephone and e-mail programs when it comes to communication, a good chat client offers advantages over both that make them unique and useful for anyone. They're especially helpful at work for sending links and files when the formality of an e-mail is too cumbersome for what you're trying to communicate.
BBC News is reporting that British Telecom (BT) is teaming up with Sony to develop a voice and video communication service (via VoIP) for the Playstation Portable. Riding on BT's 21 Century Network, users of the software will be able to communicate with other PSPs, as well as some BT phones, using their own Internet service or one of the 2,000 BT hot-spot locations scattered across the U.K.
BT says that more information about the software and service will be announced at the Leipzig Games Convention in August. The camera and microphone kit, dubbed the "Go … Read more
One of the best choices for online telephony for Mac just got better. The latest Skype update pushes the program to version 2.6, adding a call transfer feature and some new chat options so you can stay in touch with friends and family around the world. Skype has always been one of my favorite apps for its familiar chat-like interface and the ability to talk to users around the world for free (provided they're also using Skype). For a little extra money, you can sign up with Skype and make calls to anyone in the world (including land … Read more
Meebo, which makes a multinetwork IM Web service, is launching a chat-room service called Rooms tonight. Like the company's other embeddable component, MeeboMe (review), it's simple to embed a Rooms viewer in a blog post or Web page. But Rooms is a full-on, multiparty chat room, which makes it a lot more interesting. MeeboMe, in contrast, allows only one-to-one communication between a Web site visitor and the Meebo user who created it--useful, but not as fun.
I've embedded a Rooms widget further down in this post. As you can see, there's more to it than just chat. Rooms makes it easy for users to share media and Web sites. All you have to do to embed a YouTube video or a Flickr photo (or media from Metacafe, Google Video, PhotoBucket, or MySpace) is paste the URL into the chat window, then other users will be able to play media directly, without leaving the chat session.
Room owners can make their forums open to everyone or by invitation only, and they can separately lock down the posting of media and links if they want (I didn't, so please keep your links clean). The media feature of Meebo Rooms reminds me of Kyte.tv (review) and of YouTube's Active Sharing experiment.
Meebo Rooms is not the only embeddable group chat. We've covered several competing products: Weezu, Me.dium, Dai.sy, Chatsum, Yakalike, Planet Minibox, Yackpack, Yaplet, and Zpeech, for example. Meebo Rooms does take advantage of Meebo's slick, Web-based instant message service, though. You can easily invite people into a room by just dragging their name from your buddy list into the room. But Meebo doesn't force the chat/IM integration on you: If you want to invite people via e-mail, that's cool. And people who chat on the service's embeddable widgets don't have to be Meebo users at all.
Meebo Rooms users can also private-message the room's owner, who can then respond back to them in kind. This is a common feature in chat widgets, but I found Rooms' implementation of it exceptionally clear and intuitive.
Yahoo Messenger is a great, free tool for keeping in touch with your friends, but what if you only want a few of your contacts to know you're available to chat? Tom Merritt has your fix with a Quick Tip about Stealth Settings in Yahoo Messenger.
The free instant-messaging client Gaim (GDK+ AOL Instant Messenger) has become popular in recent years because of its ability to connect with a wide range of IM networks (Yahoo, MSN, IRC, Jabber/Google Talk/XMPP, AIM, ICQ, Gadu-Gadu, and others) and its extensibility in the form of user-created plug-ins.
The name Gaim came about due to complaints from AOL about the name GDK+ AOL Instant Messenger. However, as AOL Instant Messenger became more popular, AOL trademarked the acronym "AIM," leading to further legal struggles with the Gaim developers. After a series of negotations, the developers agreed to change the name of the 2.0 version of Gaim to Pidgin, based on the word for simplified speech between people who do not share a common language.
The big change in Pidgin 2.0 is the new look. The interface has been redesigned, with the option to view your Buddy List in Basic or Advanced view. Important facets like plug-ins and status availability have been broken out of the Preferences dialog and into areas of their own. Plug-ins have their own dialog available from the Tools menu, and status is now set by a drop-down menu at the bottom of your buddy list.… Read more
Editor's note: This is Part One of a two-part series on multinetwork IM clients. Don't worry, we haven't forgotten about all-in-one Web and mobile chatting.
There's a lot to chat about in the multiprotocol IM universe. Pidgin just debuted as a full-fledged version 2.0, replacing the much-loved Gaim. Trillian is gearing up to wow us all with its gleaming browser-based Astra version, and every day more and more plug-ins pop up to make this breed of protocol-bridging IM clients more extensible and functional.
If you're still logging into three separate chat services to contact your friends, it's time to consider these consolidated options.… Read more