Over the last year or so, having online chat integrated into a website has quickly moved from “nifty” to “the norm”. The feature first caught on with Facebook, and has since made its way to a variety of other sites, including MySpace and Orkut. But most publishers and social networks don’t really have the resources to build their own chat clients, which can frustrate users that have become accustomed to the feature.
Meebo, the popular chat startup, has come a long way in helping solve this problem. The company has spent the last year building up Community IM, a product that allows sites to quickly integrate a full-featured browser-based chat client in a matter of days. Meebo has signed 75 partner sites and is currently live on 32 of them, with deployment quickly ramping up. Today, Community IM is getting a major upgrade, and it’s one that represents a major shift in the way the service can be used, beginning to transition Community IM from a pure chat product to a powerful sharing service.
Before now, users on a site with Community IM were restricted to chatting with friends on that site’s social graph — if I was on myYearbook, I could only chat with my myYearbook buddies. Starting today, users on some partner sites will be prompted by a small message alongside the chat bar that invites them to connect with their other friends using their Meebo account.
This means that users will be able to chat with friends on any chat network Meebo supports, which includes AIM, Facebook, and Gtalk. They’ll also be able to tap into the social graphs of other Community IM partner sites that they’re a part of — if I was on cafemom, I could log in with my Meebo account and see if any of my friends from my myYearbook account were online.
The other major new addition to Community IM is a very intuitive sharing feature. Aftering hit the new ‘Share’ button at the bottom left hand corner of the chat bar, the browser will dim slightly, save for your chat buddy list and icons for Facebook, Twitter, and Email at the top of the screen. Clicking on any of your buddies will immediately send them a link to the site you’re currently on (no copy/paste required). Likewise, clicking on the Facebook, Twitter, or Email icons will let you share the page via any of these services in a matter of seconds. Sharing isn’t exactly a unique feature, but it’s executed very well here — you can send a link to a friend in only two mouse clicks.
Combined with the inter-network chat also launching today, this new sharing feature is going to be driving quite a bit of traffic for Meebo’s partner sites, though it comes with a bit of a tradeoff. Users will now be swapping links to partner sites other than the one their friends are currently looking at (I might send a link for Cafemom to one of my friends currently browsing Flixster), which could occasionally drive traffic away from a partner site. That said, Meebo believes that this will generally boost traffic for all partners involved, and says that all of its partners knew this was coming and are eager for it.
The upgraded Community IM is being deployed to CafeMom and SparkPeople today, and the new chat bar will soon begin rolling it out to existing partners as well (Meebo says that all partners will eventually make the switch).