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Raid The MiniBar: Meebo Gets Into The Site Check-In Game. But Don't Call It A Game.

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With the rise of Foursquare, the “check-in” has become fairly commonplace. With the launch of Places, Facebook will only make it more so. It shouldn’t be surprising that we’re seeing dozens of other startups spring up to do check-ins for FILL-IN-THE-BLANK. Media check-ins were a pretty obvious extension. But now we’re seeing a number of companies pop up that are doing check-ins for websites. A couple of these, Badgeville and OneTrueFan, launched in September at TechCrunch Disrupt. Now they’re about to get some very big competition: Meebo.

Specifically, on Tuesday, Meebo is launching a new browser extension, the Meebo MiniBar, in alpha. This extension, which will be available for Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer, will allow people to check-in to the websites they’re browsing on the fly. And this extension is just the first step. Once it’s fully up and running, Meebo plans to add the functionality to their popular toolbar. A toolbar which spans some 8,000 partner websites and reaches 180 million unique users a month already.

So why is Meebo getting into this game? “I kind of think sharing is a little bit tapped out,” Meebo Co-founder and CEO Seth Sternberg told us when we sat down with him last week to get a preview of the new feature. He notes that plenty of people are getting hesitant to share things on Facebook and Twitter because they’re afraid someone else already has and they’ll be considered uncool or out of date. There’s a real anxiety there. So instead, he hopes this Meebo MiniBar (and eventually the Meebo Bar itself) removes this sharing stigma. You should be able to show off what you’re really reading around on the web and not worry if someone else has already shared it.

Sternberg also notes that user testing has told them that a lot of people are interested to know what websites their friends are actually visiting. “My friends know about cooler websites than I do,” is how he puts it. And he says that Twitter today seems to be more about rap stars, while Facebook is for your actual friends, but not necessarily for content discovery amongst your friends.

Having said that, obviously the Meebo MiniBar will have options to share your check-ins to Twitter and Facebook. But Sternberg is quick to say that this won’t be on by default. Instead, the more interesting discovery mechanism may exist in the extension itself, as there is a Feed button that shows you when friends discover and check-in to new sites.

When you check-in to a site with the Meebo MiniBar, you’ll check into the site itself, not a specific page (even if you’re on one). So if you were to check-in while reading this article, for example, you would check-in to TechCrunch. You will be able to add a specific page though by clicking the “Attach this page” button after you check-in. But that’s optional. As is commenting.

This basic approach seems like a smart play. It reminds me a bit of MyBlogLog before their acquisition by Yahoo. Of course on big difference is that the Meebo MiniBar won’t show that you’ve visited a site unless you explicitly check-in.

By checking-in to sites you love enough, you can also earn VIP status. But Sternberg wants to make it clear that this isn’t about creating a game mechanic — there is no mayor system, like on Foursquare or some of the site check-in rivals mentioned above. This VIP system is just a way to show your affinity towards certain sites you actually visit. And eventually, this VIP status could be used by the site itself to rewards its most loyal readers.

But those type of partner discussions and potential APIs are down the road. For now, Meebo just wants to get an alpha version of the product out there, and that’s why they made the MiniBar. Sternberg notes that it’s one of the few extensions that doesn’t install any software on your system — everything loaded comes from Meebo.com itself. Their work with the Meebo Bar has allowed them to create this type of micro-footprint tool. And Sternberg says that the experience will still be instantaneous. You visit a site, you hit the check-in button, and you’re done.

And this MiniBar still offers much of the functionality of the larger bar. For example, you can chat with your online friends from across the web in it.

Another new feature Meebo is launching to facilitate all of this are Meebo profile pages. This keeps track of your check-in activity across the web. This also allows you to visit other websites and see what other users have been there.

Again, look for the extension to launch on Tuesday. And be sure to check-in to TechCrunch.

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