Thursday, December 10, 2009


I've been using meebo for quite some time now as my primary IM client. I started out many years ago using the individual IM clients, and then I discovered multi-client IM with Trillian and, later, Miranda IM, and LOVED the ability to use many IM protocols with only one piece of software! What I didn't love was that I couldn't boot up my computer at home and look back at the IMs I had exchanged with someone while I was at work, because chat logs were stored locally. And I STILL had to install the software to be able to use it in a new location. These days you can install your multiprotocol IM client on a thumb drive (I have a portable copy of Digsby handy now, if I ever want to use that!) but that is a relatively new development, and anyway, what if I'm at the library and can't run software off my thumb drive?

Meebo (along with other Web-based IM clients) addresses all of these concerns. All you have to do to try out meebo is go to the Web site and supply the login and password for one of the many IM networks they support (the ones on the home page... AIM, Yahoo, MySpace, MSN, Facebook, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, etc. ...those are only the tip of the iceberg). Meebo is compatible with all of the major browsers, so in general it should work for you (I regularly use it in MS Internet Explorer and Firefox on Windows). Once logged in, you will see a list of your contacts on that network, including any categories you might have placed them into (friends, family, school buddies, whatever), and you will be able to chat with them just as you would with a traditional client. You will even hear a little "ding" sound when you send or receive a message. The "ding" can be silenced, but it cannot currently be reconfigured to a different sound.

If you set up a "meebo account" with its own separate login and password, you can add multiple IM accounts to your meebo account. With one password, I log in daily to accounts on AIM, Yahoo, ICQ, MSN, Google Talk, Facebook, and even Jabber accounts on and! Meebo adds new networks fairly frequently, so if you have an account on another network, even one that is a bit obscure, give it a look... it might be on the list!

When I first started using meebo, all IM windows existed within the main browser window. That limitation is now a thing of the past, and now you can (and I do, quite frequently) "pop out" an IM window so that it looks almost exactly like an IM conversation in a traditional piece of IM software! You can then "pop" it back in if you like. If you pop out a window and then close it, the next time that contact IMs you, the window will even start out popped out. I don't care for that (although it's a pretty cool trick!) so I generally pop the windows back in before closing them.

Meebo supports your basic set of smiley-faces (called "emoticons"), and they have a few of their own, like a "(pacman)" and a "(ghost)", a monkey and a pig, and even hidden emoticons like a "(pirate)"! (You just have to do a little research to find out about the hidden emoticons. ;) ) One problem with all "alternate" IM clients (and really, with IM clients in general) is that emoticons are sent as text and not as graphics... so if you send someone a monkey emoticon in meebo and they're not using meebo, they probably won't see your monkey. And if they send you some weird emoticon from their IM client, you might see :*>J-] or something even crazier-looking. Some emoticons are common across most IM clients, but sometimes it helps to search out online lists of the emoticons in your friends' IM clients to see what they're trying to show you. Unless all IM client builders agree on a common set of emoticons (not likely!), this is just part of using IM. If you stick to :) and :( and maybe a ;) or two, you'll be all right.

One thing that has been bothering me lately about meebo is that if I am typing in one IM window and someone IMs me from another window, the first window loses focus and the end of whatever I'm typing winds up in the new IM conversation. This is an annoyance, but I'm pretty sure this is a problem common in IM clients, so I can't fault meebo TOO much for it. In the past I've had trouble with meebo taking a long time to start up or occasionally hanging in the browser, but these kinds of bugs have a way of suddenly disappearing; the coding staff at meebo clearly works hard to clean up their own messes so that the experience is as smooth as possible.

There are mobile meebo apps for iPhone and Android, and there is a "phone-friendly" version of meebo that comes up on cell phone browsers (although we haven't been able to get it to work on my wife's LG Neon). If you have an unlimited data plan but sending IMs from your phone eats up text messages, using a Web IM application like meebo might be your ticket to sending IMs whenever you want (plus, it supports most any IM protocol you could want, while most phones only support one or two!)

If you are using meebo on your computer and you crash your browser, your meebo session goes down too. This likely doesn't happen very often to most people, but as a Web site programmer, crashing my browser can sometimes be a fact of life. There are a number if ways around this. You could simply run meebo from a different browser if you have one installed on your computer (a different window of the same browser will often crash right along with the first window, so that's probably not a helpful strategy.) You could use something like Prism (Firefox) or Bubbles (MSIE) to essentially convert meebo into something resembling a desktop application (I have used it with both, and was happy with both). Or you could do something which seems like a step backwards... install the Meebo Notifier (Windows only) desktop application! Another big advantage of using the Notifier (which is how I currently run meebo most of the time) is that you get pop-up, WIndowsey notifications when someone IMs you... you don't even have to have the browser window open! (Conversely, whcn someone IMs you, if you don't already have a browser window open it takes a significant amount of time for the software to open, causing people to wonder why you're not answering them... I keep the browser window open and minimized when I'm using the Notifier).

Audio/video teleconferencing on IM clients seems to still be a little bit of a jumbled landscape, and interoperability is sketchy. Meebo does support audion and video conferencing, even with users that are not using meebo, although the conference for them will take place using a third-party Web app and not directly in their IM client. I have my doubts about how often people use that kind of capability anyway; I think most people use Skype for their video phone use. I've used meebo for this myself, though, and the experience was unexpectedly easy.

The one thing I really wish meebo would do... and I know it's on their radar, but I wish they would go ahead and get it done... is grouping of contacts. My brother, for example, routinely logs into three IM networks, but we generally chat on MSN Messenger. There's no reason for me to see his name three times; it would be great to see his name once and be able to click on it and chat using MSN Messenger if he's logged into it, or if he's only logged into one of the other networks, chat with him using Yahoo Messenger or whatever else instead. I have several other friends with multiple accounts, and it would be so nice to link those suckers up so that I only have to keep track of one name.

Another IM client I've looked at recently, Digsby, does allow you to group your clients. Digsby is not a Web-based client; it is a supercharged desktop client. It supports many IM networks, and it even does some really cool stuff with social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Plus, it can help you keep track of your email accounts! The only problem I have with Digsby is that it seems to have a really large memory footprint... it takes a considerable amount of time to start up, and on a slow system, Digsby is going to be pretty sluggish, while meebo has been quite nimble for me, even on underpowered desktop systems. One thing Digsby does share with online IM services like meebo is that the information about your accounts is stored on the Digsby servers, so if I go to a friend's house and log into Digsby using my Digsby login information, all of my IM clients will be set up instantly (the new version of Trillian, called Trillian Astra, seems to have this, in addition to a Web version!) But the fact is, meebo is versatile, easy to use, and very fast. New features are added quite frequently, and the company is very proactive abotu fixing any problems that arise.

I can't think of any compelling reason to use any IM client for day-to-day use other than meebo. The "official" clients are sometimes necessary for a few infrequently-needed tasks such as blocking users or changing settings, but overall, meebo is, in my opinion, best-of-breed for IM clients. Give it a try!