Meebo may sound like the title of the next animated Pixar flick, but this free Web-based instant messaging aggregator may solve an annoying problem for many small-business people.
Spam is slowly killing e-mail as an effective business tool. If you have to get on the phone with the other person to ensure your message arrived and didnt get dumped into a spam box, e-mail becomes a far less useful medium.
Instant messaging (IM), which has been moving from the consumer realm to the business world for several years now, offers an alternative that solves the spam problem.
It does come with some issues of its own, however, which is where Meebo comes in and solves at least some of them.
The Big Problem
If you sign up for AOL Instant Messaging (AIM), for example, and your customer is on Yahoos IM service, you wont be able to chat with him until one of you signs up for the other service. And if another customer is using ICQ, youll have to sign up for that one as well.
The main Meebo Web page lets you see which services youre logged into and your log-in names for each service.
(Click for larger image).
It's certainly possible to sign up for multiple services virtually all are free for basic features. But each requires a small program that runs in memory on your computer when youre signed in, using up computing resources and cluttering your desktop.
Also, if youre using a friends or colleagues computer or a computer in an Internet café and want to be able to chat with your contacts, youre out of luck unless the other computer happens to have the IM program or programs you need installed or the owner doesnt mind you downloading and installing them.
Meebo solves these problems by offering an entirely Web-based service no program to download, you just need a browser that lets you sign into multiple IM services but use just one interface, the Meebo browser interface.
You still have to sign up for the services your colleagues, customers and suppliers use, but you dont have to have multiple IM clients running on your system to be able to communicate with them. And you dont have to log in separately to each service Meebo can automatically log you into several when you sign in at the Meebo Web page.
And because its an entirely browser-based service, you can log in and use Meebo on any Net-connected computer.
Meebo supports most of the popular chat services and some social networking sites, including MSN (also Microsofts successor to MSN, Windows Live Messenger), AIM (AOL), Yahoo, Google Talk, MySpace, ICQ, Jabber, plus some weve never heard of, such as Piczo and Wadja.
According to Meebo CEO Seth Sternberg's blog, the service once again works with FaceBook after dealing with unspecified security issues. One notable omission: Skype. Skype is a fairly proprietary system so the problem may be with Skype not Meebo. .
A Single Interface
Browser interfaces are never quite as slick as stand-alone programs, but Meebos comes close.
When you surf to the Meebo home page, a small movable window pops up that looks like other IM interfaces, showing your buddy list and a few icon buttons, links and fields for key functions such as add-and-remove contacts, search-contacts and change-your-status.
To send a message to a contact, you simply double-click on the contact's name and a standard-format chat window pops up. When you click to add a contact, a window pops up that is similar to other IM add-contact dialogs, except that in this case you have to first choose the service your new contact uses from a pull-down list.
The only slight irritation: you cant move the Meebo buddy-list window or chat windows anywhere on your desktop, only within the confines of the Meebo Web page in your browser.
Editorial Update: A sharp-eyed reader e-mailed instructions on how to move the Meebo buddy-list and chat windows. "You can actually pop out the buddy list or chat windows into separate windows, which you can then move anywhere on your desktop. Below the minimize button on the buddy list is a popout icon, and below the close/max/min on a chat window is a popout icon. Give it a ride."
Meebo lets you organize contacts by type, which is useful if you have alot of them. The default groups include Co-workers and Other Contacts, but you can add your own colleagues, customers, suppliers, perhaps, and within each of those last two groups, company names.
The underlying Meebo Web page includes a window showing your log-in status including which services youre logged into and your log-in names for those services with a link to sign on to more accounts.
When you click the latter button, a window pops up with a dialog in which you choose a service from the pull-down list, enter your login and password you have to sign up at the service providers page first and indicate by checking the appropriate box whether you want Meebo to automatically log you in to the service when you sign in to Meebo.
Across the top of the page are links to Accounts, Preferences, Help and Meebo Rooms (more about that in a moment).