Hopping onto several instant-messaging networks at once is often best done with the help of IM software, but in recent years Web-based chat tools have gotten to the point where software is not as much of a necessity. Shape Services, the maker of several mobile software applications, has put together just such a tool called IM+ for Web that does well to fit into that category.
Like the popular Meebo, IM+ for Web lets you connect to multiple IM networks at once and juggle several chats in one browser window. All the while it provides notifications when new messages arrive, both in the form of yellow highlighting in the chat windows and in your buddy list, as well as a preview of the message with a browser window title bar change and pop-up notification. Compared to a desktop IM app, these attention getters are pretty good for making sure you don't let important messages pass you by.
Among the networks supported at launch are AIM, Yahoo, MSN, Google Talk, ICQ, Facebook, MySpace, Skype, and Jabber. The service has been set up to let you save your log-ins for each of these, and have them all start up at once when you sign in with your IM+ account. I tried it out with multiple AIM accounts, a Yahoo account, and Google Talk, and had great results.
Similar to its mobile sibling, which has been around for the past eight years, IM+ can keep a log of your past chats with each contact. I found this to be a slightly better experience than Meebo's history browser since you don't just hop from one day of conversation to the next. Instead, you push back the length of its log from the past day, week, two weeks, one month, three months, six months, and finally--one year. As you do this, the length of the conversation expands, which can make finding a particular mention or piece of a conversation an on-page browser search away.
One thing Meebo users may not like, however, is that IM+ for Web reacts less like a desktop software application with floating Windows, and more like a Web mail in-box. For instance, you can only interact with one conversation at a time, instead of having several up on the screen at once. Given the often short and sweet nature of IMs, this is a waste of screen real estate, and can make hopping back and forth between three or more active conversations an arduous experience. At the same time, the aforementioned message preview pop-ups and title bar name changes let you see what's happening in those other conversations without shifting too much of your focus.
Of course, the killer app here is that you can take the mobile experience from the desktop to your mobile phone, then back again--though that's something Meebo has now offered for years. The big difference is that Shape's IM+ paid app on the iPhone is packing quite a few more features than Meebo's, which has not yet been updated for iOS 4's background features. IM+ is also available as a native application on a handful of other mobile platforms, including BlackBerry, Symbian and WebOS.
So, is this worth ditching Meebo, Kool IM, Imo.im, and others? If you're an IM+ mobile user who wants to keep all your chat history in one place when switching platforms, and you have already gone through the effort of plugging in your accounts, then yes. Otherwise, this does not quite have nearly as many bells and whistles as Web and software-based competitors offer. At least not yet.