Top Web-Based Messengers for Chat

Keep abreast of messages without leaving your browser

USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Woman online chatting
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When you cannot download an IM client, web messengers are a great, web-based alternative for keeping in touch with friends and family. Unlike other multi-protocol IM clients, web messengers require nothing more than a screen name to your favorite IM and a web browser.

Best for Normal Chatting: Skype

Skype

What We Like

  • Easy to use.

  • Free.

  • Includes options for voice and video calling.

  • Offers stand-alone app as well.

What We Don't Like

  • Web client feels like an afterthought.

  • Browser plug-ins on some setups could affect usability.

Microsoft bought Skype several years ago and has continued to advance the venerable instant-messaging platform. Packed with features including group chats, video chats, voice calls, and file transfers, Skype offers a full-service, cross-platform messaging service ideal for casual or home-consumer users.

Best for Work Teams: Slack

Slack

What We Like

  • Widely adopted by companies.

  • Good feature set.

What We Don't Like

  • Platform does support admin snooping on messaging.

  • Pricing model is a bit confusing.

Slack really opened the door to workplace instant messaging. Although the service primarily runs on its stand-alone app, Slack supports a web interface.

The service is robust and deeply integrates with quite a few external services to improve efficiency.

The company/team structure of the app and the generous functionality at the free tier makes it a go-to choice for professional teams, small businesses, and community organizations.

Best for Making Random Connections: Chatroulette

Chatroulette

What We Like

  • Free and easy to use.

  • You'll encounter some interesting people and situations with the service.

What We Don't Like

  • Content ranges from mild to wild, including sexual situations.

  • Interface is exceptionally bare-bones.

Chatroulette is an interesting take on instant messaging: You must use your webcam, and you're randomly paired with another online user. This sort of social-discovery serendipity will either delight, bore, or disgust you, depending on whom you're pared with.

Chatroulette is one of several similar-themed video-chat sites. You cannot predict what you'll come across, which is part of the draw.

Best for Googlers: Hangouts

Google Hangouts

Robert Nyman/Flickr.com/CC BY 2.0 

What We Like

  • Popular — more than 1 billion users worldwide.

  • Deeply tied to your Google account.

  • Free and easy to use.

What We Don't Like

  • The platform is shutting down in 2019 and migrating to something similar.

  • Surrending more data to Google to promote ad targeting.

Google's vision for consumer and enterprise chat has always been goofy. The company has opened and closed so many apps that there's a cottage industry among tech writers in deciphering what's going on and why.

Hangouts is a robust platform with a great web interface plus well-supported mobile apps. You can engage in text and video chat and do group messaging. If you and your friends are already deeply entrenched in the Google ecosystem, then Hangouts is likely your best default option.

Best for Multiplatform: IM+ Web Messenger

IM+

What We Like

  • Free and easy to use.

  • Links to many individual chat services.

What We Don't Like

  • Increasingly non-maintained.

  • Predominance of Russia-themed chat services is a red flag.

Once upon a time, IM+ offered a robust mobile app for unified multi-service messaging. Although the app has fallen into disuse, the service still runs, and it still offers a web-based interface that lets you connect many different messaging services in one unified interface.

The era of the multi-service IM client is fast fading — although Linux users wouldn't know it — so services like IM+, while still technically functional, hearken to the early 2000s and the wild competition among chat providers.

The Future of Web-Based Messaging

Settling on a great web-based IM client isn't as easy as it used to be. The industry shifted as smartphone adoption increased; chat has moved away from web portals and into either mobile or stand-alone desktop apps.

In fact, some of the best instant messaging clients on the market today didn't make the list because they no longer offer web clients. Signal, for example, offers secure messaging — but it's only available as a mobile or desktop app. And although Facebook Messenger is wildly popular, it doesn't really run in a browser; instead, it runs as a pop-up window inside the Facebook site, which isn't quite the same thing.

Although there's a use case for web-based messaging, the era of many different services competing for your chat time on your desktop computer has faded. For better or for worse, IM has migrated toward dedicated mobile and desktop apps and away from the browser.