Skype 4 beta: chat bookmarking and notification changes for better attention management

November 02, 2008

One of the strongest features of Skype are its text chats. In Skype 4, there are some changes to how chat notifications and bookmarks work. And mostly they are for the better.

When you go to the “Conversations” tab, you immediately see if some of the conversations have new messages to them and how many there are. You also see a “preview” of the actual message texts.

There are two types of blips, with brighter and more pale orange. I think it’s something like that the bright orange is messages received during current session, whereas the more pale orange is from previous sessions, but there isn’t really that much practical difference between them.

In either case, when you open the chat, you see these orange blips next to the new messages.

All of the above is very similar to previous versions and other versions. What’s a new and very welcome addition in Skype 4 is that you can actually set the bookmark yourself in a chat. Right-click anywhere in the chat and you see an option “Move bookmark here”.

When you do this, the messages below the current one get the orange blip, and the chat gets an “unread” badge to the conversations tab.

This is a very powerful addition, and as far as I know, a fairly unique capability among IM/chat clients. In most others that I have used (although I haven’t really studied all the different ones recently), the read/unread stuff is much more ephemeral – once you see a message, it is marked as “read”, and that’s it. There’s no way to revert the state to unread and use this as an attention management tool, similarly to you often use read/unread markers in your email inbox.

This also highlights a change in terms between Skype 4 and the previous versions. In previous versions and other platforms, “chat bookmarking” means bookmarking the chat as a whole, so that you can access it through your contacts list or a special menu. In Skype 4, bookmarking happens within a chat, and the “old” chat bookmark feature is now called “Save group in contacts”. I guess this is also why the “old” contact groups is now called “Contact categories” – because chats are now called groups.

These terminology changes will cause some confusion over the migration period, especially if they won’t be reflected in the API or other platforms for an extended period of time, but overall I don’t think the new scheme is worse than the old one.

All in all, the capability to bookmark parts in a conversation will definitely assist with attention management.