Meebo's nifty multimedia chat rooms

The browser-based IM service known as Meebo has long been one of our favourite Web-based services. Until now, we've liked Meebo because it felt so much like a desktop application that happened to live entirely on the Net. But with its latest feature, Meebo Rooms, it's doing something neat that doesn't have an exact counterpart in any traditional IM client that I know about.

Meebo Rooms are group chat rooms--and while there's nothing inherently new or cool about that, they have a number of features which collectively add up to an interesting whole:

* As with Meebo in general, there's no software to install; the rooms are entirely browser-based, and implemented with slick Ajax techniques rather than persnickety Java;

* Chatters don't need to have Meebo accounts to take part--in fact, you can send invitations via IM to people on any major network, and they can be in your chat room within seconds;

* Meebo Rooms can have a media window that lets any chatter paste in videos from YouTube and MetaCafe and photo sets from Flickr; all chatters can then see the media and discuss it;

* Rooms live at Meebo's own site, but you can also embed them in any Web site, giving anyone with an online presence the ability to have a chat room;

* Anyone can create rooms, but Meebo has also signed up some partners, such as Popular Mechanics, CNET, Veoh, Virgin, Blip.tv, and others, who will be using Rooms to distribute content.

Is there a catch to all this coolness? Well, Rooms are free and ad-supported, so you'll see brief video commercials when nobody in your room is playing a video. Seems like a fair deal to me. In fact, I'm planning to try replacing a chat room on my personal site--currently powered by Parachat's Java-based service, kind of clunky, and $US70 a year--with a free Meebo Room.)

One of the best things about Meebo from the start has been the degree to which it just works...and for the most part, playing with Meebo Rooms today has been a pleasantly smooth experience. In particular, the YouTube integration is slick and simple.

True, I have run into some glitches with Safari (which Meebo officially supports) and Opera (which it doesn't). But even in those browsers, I was able to chat.

One other note--and depending on how you feel, this is either a plus or a minus: Meebo has a swear-word filter, but it only asterisks out your cuss words in other people's chat windows. In other words, you can swear all you like, but you're the only person who will see it. The service also has some basic moderation features, such as the ability for the room's creator to ban people, and to create password-protected private rooms.

If you want to check out Meebo Rooms in their full glory, head over to Meebo, sign up for an account (or just log in with your existing IM account), and venture into an existing room or create your own.