Palo Alto based Meebo is a Sequoia backed web chat company that allows users to access popular instant messaging services on a web page instead of using downloaded software. Our posts on Meebo are here – we’ve covered this company closely since its launch in September 2005.
Until February, every time a user visited Meebo they were required to re-enter their IM login credentials to access Yahoo, MSN, etc. Now, however, users may (but aren’t required to) create a Meebo account that stores these credentials, allowing for a single sign in to multiple IM services. This user registration feature is a key part to a new service they are launching today, called MeeboMe.
MeeboMe is a Flash-based chat widget that Meebo users can place on a website. This is not a group chat feature that companies like 3bubbles have launched in the recent past (and which are plagued by scaling issues). MeeboMe is a one-on-one communication between a website owner and a visitor.
If the widget is placed on the site (see embedded widget below), every current visitor on the site shows up as a contact on the website publisher’s meebo contact list. If the visitor chooses to email the publisher, that message pops up on the publisher’s screen, and a chat session can occur. Note that this is a two way mechanism – even if a visitor has not initiated chat, the publisher can ping the user anyway to initiate a conversation (this would freak me out if I was just visiting a site, but perhaps it will be a common thing in the future).
Visitors are assigned a username but can choose a session alias. In the future users will be able to log in with their Meebo credentials, establishing who they are with certainty. Even for small sites (and maybe mostly for small sites) this will provide a useful communication mechanism unavailable today. Note that group chat will also be enabled in the future, allowing larger conversations to take place.
Because every current visitor is marked as a chat contact, MeeboMe also acts as a great way to tell a site owner exactly how many visitors are on his or her site at any given time – they all show up as contacts.
This is the first time Meebo is directing messaging traffic direclty between users without flowing it through one of the IM networks. They’ve therefore just crossed the line and have become an IM network on their own. They’re using the Jabber platform for this – meaning you can add your Meebo account to a Jabber client and access this service without actually going to Meebo.com. For now, Meebo has restricted users from chatting with other Meebo users through Jabber clients, but removing this restriction would be trivial.
Which begs the question – has Meebo just leveraged the existing IM applications like Yahoo and MSN to build their own powerful IM service that completely bypasses those entrenched brands? How long before loyal Meebo users are simply IMing eachother directly through Meebo’s Jabber service?
As an aside, I had a chance to talk to Meebo CEO Seth Sternberg about the recent Yahoo acquisition rumors, which he flatly denied. What isn’t deniable is that Yahoo is paying users to test out the Meebo service. I have more info from Yahoo regarding this, but have been asked not to post on it yet.