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Tips and Tricks

by Matthew Critchlow

What's BuddySquares?

Buddy Squares is a plugin (a program extension) for the free MSN instant messenger program Mercury Messenger. BuddySquares visualizes information about your MSN contacts on your computer desktop in real time. You can also use it as a replacement interface for chatting with your friends.

Why does it exist?

BuddySquares is the computer science master's thesis project of Matthew Critchlow, who belongs to the Social Spaces research group in the computer science department at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Most instant messenger programs simply display contacts or "buddies" in a list (example from Mercury Messenger). The goal of BuddySquares is to better visualize the online social space that we all inhabit when we log into an instant messenger program. It tries to do so with a display that communicates interesting information about the user's contacts, whilst remaining visually appealing.

How does it work?

The BuddySquares display replaces the user's desktop wallpaper. It runs in the background whenever the user is logged into Mercury Messenger, continuously animating and displaying information about the user's contacts. The user can choose to either display all contacts, or just online contacts. The display is designed to be "ambient", that is, visually pleasing without being distracting. Basically, each of the user's contacts is represented as a square, and the user is a circle in the center.

The program has an inactive and an active mode. The inactive mode is purely the visualization, without any added functionality. The active mode adds the following features:

  • More information - contact's names, email addresses, last seen and last conversation times...
  • Clickable graphics that enable you to send instant messages
  • Dragable graphics that allow you to rearrange the display in anyway you please

I want it, can I have it?

Sure, it's free, head on over to the download section, just make sure you check out the system requirements first.

Further information

For more details read my thesis, or the FAQ, look at past and present screenshots, or download BuddySquares and try it out for yourself.

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