If you've been using the internet for a while, you've probably used some kind of chat or instant message program ... they're just a way to carry on an interactive conversation. They're live, but you have to type the messages. I first chatted by computer with someone thousands of miles away almost 35 years ago. Facebook's Chat isn't much different from others you might have used, but in some ways is worse than most. However, it's still nice to be able to see which Friends are actively using Facebook and to be able to sent them a quick personal message that they see immediately.
If someone initiates a Facebook Chat session with you, a box pops up near the bottom right of the screen. They drove my wife crazy, because they didn't make sense to her, she didn't know what to do with them, and if she closed the box could never figure out how to get the message back. As you see below, it's very easy to respond to someone. However, her basic problem is a very real one: Facebook only lets you "view recent conversation history" (measured in hours, not days) and it only lets you view it if the other person is online.
However, the real reason she was totally confused is that when the box pops up, the top portion contains other person's "last published thought" ... it has nothing to do with the chat session and most likely has nothing to do with you. Here's an example, of a chat from her to me, asking if I wanted to do lunch?
The discussion of the weather and dancing in a gazebo has nothing to do with lunch. It's something she published to her Wall days ago ... it's not current news at all which is what a chat should be. No wonder she was confused where she got these messages.
To answer the chat question "Lunch?", just start typing where you see the red arrow above.
Once you've typed your message, be sure to press the Enter key. In the screen shot above, it hasn't been pressed. Once you press Enter the message jumps up and becomes part of the conversation and the other person sees it:
Until you press Enter, the other person sees nothing ... they don't even know you are starting to respond.
There's not much more to it. The number next to Chat at the bottom of the window shows how many of your Friends were online the last time Facebook checked:
If you click on the word "Chat" it will check again, and show you who is still there. The little green dot indicates that they have actively been using Facebook, and the moon says they haven't been active in the last 10 minutes ... but as far as I can tell that just means they haven't posted something, they could actively be doing all kinds of other things in Facebook:
On the other hand they might not be using Facebook at all, it may just open in some background tab or window. Either way, you can probably send them a chat message and they'll get it.
One other thing I've noticed: If the person leaves Facebook in the middle of a chat, you can send several messages before Facebook notices. Those messages may be lost forever unless you start another chat with that person before Facebook deletes them. Once Facebook notices they are offline, you'll get a message like this:
That message will be lost too unless you click on "send as a message". If you do it will start the message dialog (which sends a message to their Inbox, and maybe their e-mail depending on their notification settings). The last chat line in the chat dialog is put in the message, but other lines that may have been lost are not.
There are some Chat options. One which might be useful is you have LOTS of friends and only want to consider chatting with a few is the ability to create Friend Lists and only show Friends on certain Lists in Chat. But even that isn't great because the isn't any automatic list of "Other Friends", so all those people keep showing up in Chat no matter what.
Bottom Line: Pick of the phone or use Skype. Now days lots of people have almost unlimited long distance calling for flat rate and can just pick up the phone, those that don't came use an internet voice communication service like Skype. Skype and many others also let you make video "calls" which are especially great for keeping in touch with grandchildren who don't live nearby.
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