6 of the best online video chat systems

Chat over a video feed without downloading any software

Tokbox

Email is dead. Instant messaging is losing its momentum.

Even the mighty Facebook will be passé sooner than anyone thinks.

On the internet, video is the reigning champion and a nearly ubiquitous way to communicate in real time without actually being in the same room.

As with most mobile technologies, one minute you think a communication medium has stagnated or become a standard (if such a thing exists), and then the walls come down, the natives get restless and somebody invents something new.

Such is the case with video chat software. Even though it may seem like your metallic-blue Sony VAIO is prepped and ready with software that uses the built-in webcam, the reality is that the internet is a faster, more reliable and more compatible way to hold a video chat session.

Your webcam is now a portal to sites like Imo.im, UStream, and Tokbox that let you chat over a video feed without downloading any software. The benefit for mobile users is speed: you can fire up a site and start chatting in seconds. And the person on the other end of the video chat doesn't have to install any software either.

In this overview, we'll cover the best internet chat portals for mobile users, including one that works over social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

1. Imo.im
(Free)
You'd expect an intelligent web service from a group of ex-Google employees, but what sets Imo.im apart from the competition is that you can use your existing instant messaging client – such as MSN or Yahoo! – and log in just a few seconds, and then click one button to start using your webcam. You'll see your buddy lists from those clients, and can set a simple away message.

The service is almost instantaneous, without any software to download, and it found the webcam in our Lenovo SL300 test machine without any configuration at all. You can add buddies and login to multiple IM clients at the same time. The service supports MSN, Yahoo!, Skype, MySpace, AOL AIM and Google Talk, and the online client supports English and Spanish. There's also a quick button that lets you position the IM chat window to the left or right of your browser in a separate window, which looks almost exactly like the software client.

During several video chats, the service never crashed or caused any stuttering problems that are common with fledgling video chat clients. Imo.im also offers a Windows client version of the software. Imo.im has very little pizzazz and minimal features, but it gets you chatting over video quickly. Imo.im does an amazing job of keeping the video feed clear.

2. Tokbox.com
(free)
Tokbox is only slightly more complicated to set up than Imo.im because you have to create a new account. At that point, you can text chat with only MSN, AOL AIM users and, of course, other Tokbox users, so there's no support for Google Talk or Skype, for example. (Tokbox just introduced a Facebook add-on that works within that social networking site, however.)

To video chat, your buddies who use MSN and Yahoo! have to create a Tokbox account. Once it's running, the Tokbox service runs just as smoothly as Imo.im. The interface uses a bright green and blue design that is easy to use – you can move talk sessions around on the screen, and they have a cool drop-shadow effect.

The service also supports video voice mail so friends can leave you a message, and you can post public video messages. There's also a way to find friends online and to open your video chat up so anyone can find you.