A minor update hit Facebook today as it added an indicator to your profile that alerts friends to your online status. On the home page, friends available for chat still reside on the left side and you still have the expandable grey chat box on the bottom right corner of your screen.
The indicators are familiar to Facebook users as the little green dot will appear for friends who are online and able to chat, the crescent will appear for idle friends and the hollow circle will appear for friends who are offline or have turned off their chat feature. The indicator is now located directly to the right of your name at the top of your profile.
Facebook chat released in 2008, and for the first couple of years was much maligned for its connection issues. Few things were as frustrating as Facebook chat for users trying to relay time sensitive information to one another. Mid 2010, however, Facebook made some changes and since then Facebook chat has been much more functional.
Facebook has also experimented with how to notify users who is online and available for chat. Some time ago, a chat link would appear under a friend's profile picture to signal their availability. Recently, the top right of the profile had buttons for "chat" and "poke." Now in that spot there are two button that say "message" and "poke." Clicking the message button for an online friend will open a chat box. Clicking the message button for an offline friend will take you to the messaging screen.
As InsideFacebook points out, this update could be Facebook's way of raising the popularity of its chat feature:
Therefore, the prominent placement of the online status indicator is probably an attempt on Facebook's part to increase the number of Chats and Messages sent. Now when a user clicks through to a friend's profile from a photo or news feed update, they'll immediately be shown whether they can instantly communicate with that friend. In this way, the green icon serves as an invitation to Chat.
Facebook also made another little tweak to chat recently, as instead of asking whether you want chat with an suddenly offline friend to be sent as a message, it notifies you that it will be doing that and does it automatically.