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Facebook Adds Chat; Count Me Out (For Now)

At the start of this month, the social-networking site Facebook began adding an instant-messaging application. It's not a separate program, or even a separate Web page that you need to launch to start zipping notes back and forth in real time. Instead, this little Web widget pops in and out of the bottom right corner of the Facebook page.

Like the instant-messaging feature in Google's Gmail, Facebook's chat widget wisely emphasizes simplicity and speed. You can't choose between dozens of different emoticons to telegraph your mood, but you can start and end a chat session with just a click or two. If you need to check something else on the site in mid-chat, clicking the dash in the top of the widget's frame collapses it into the status bar at the bottom of the Facebook page, where a little red badge counts how many new messages pile up.

And yet I'm not going to use this capability. Unlike most of Facebook's features, this one doesn't let you limit your exposure to certain groups of people. The site's documentation notes that once you set your status as online, anybody can ping you:

At this time you cannot prevent a friend from chatting with you on Facebook Chat. We are working on this feature.

I realized the problem on Friday afternoon, when a well-meaning publicist started chatting me up. Considering how many tech-PR types already use Facebook friend requests and messages to get my attention, things could get out of hand in a hurry.

That won't work for me. I don't mind good friends bugging me for a moment if they have a question that can't wait for e-mail, but I don't care to grant that level of access to everybody I know on Facebook. My workday is sufficiently interrupt-driven already.

Have you tried Facebook's chat? Is it worth your time, or more distraction than you need?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 28, 2008; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  The Web  
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