There are dozens of popular instant messaging services and social media chat networks out there, and it can be hard keeping a dozen different IM clients online just to keep tabs on what your friends and contacts are saying. IM aggregator clients allow you to keep tabs on different IM networks via a single program or web app. Here are a few good IM aggregators for users of desktop, tablet, and smartphone devices.
Pidgin is one of the best IM aggregators available for Windows desktop machines. A universal chat client compatible with a whole slew of networks from the ubiquitous to the obscure, Pidgin is free, open-source, and lightweight. Pidgin also features plug-in support that adds new levels of functionality and support for networks that aren't supported via the stock package. It's not the prettiest client out there, but it works great.
Editor's Note : About all that it really lacks is support for voice and video chat, so look elsewhere if you need that functionality. Otherwise, the extension options for Pidgin are top-notch.
Miranda IM is another great IM aggregator client for Windows desktop users. Featuring a highly customizable program hidden under a very "blech" default interface, Miranda IM can be upgraded to expand functionality and allow access to various other networks. The host of configuration options and its spartan default skin might be too much for the average user, but a little tweaking and reskinning can provide you with a powerful client that is also easy on the eyes.
Editor's Note: Pidgin wins out on ease of use and ubiquity, but Miranda does feature quite a lot of tinkerability.
Mac users need not feel left out, as Adium is there to support their IM needs. Like Pidgin, Adium is a free, open source chat client with a wealth of features such as tabbed chat, a combined contacts system, file transfer, and more. Lightweight and highly customizable, Adium also features extensions for added customization.
Editor's Note: Again, like Pidgin, Adium doesn't have voice or video chat support. Still, its interface is well done, and again, highly customizable.
Previously beset by image problems related to crapware bundling and distributed computing clauses hidden in the program, Digsby seemed condemned to languish on the vine after being purchased by Tagged. However, updates fixing a long-standing Facebook connection problem and the announcement that Digsby is going open source may mean a breath of fresh air for this desktop IM client. Is it time to give this powerful but troubled app another shot? You make the call.
If you work across different devices and platforms, Trillian may be the IM app for you. Not only can the Trillian client handle numerous instant messaging protocols and services, but it does so across a number of popular platforms. Start a chat on a Windows PC, pick up your iPhone, walk out the door and continue the same conversation. Device junkies looking for an IM system that works across different platforms should look this baby up.
Editor's Note: Something that might be a deal breaker is that ads are occasionally sent into conversations, which can be exceedingly intrusive for an otherwise great client.
Nimbuzz is a cross-platform messaging application that supports multiple popular IM protocols and social networks, and also has the added feature of free voice calls to Nimbuzz contacts, video calls over WiFi and 3G, and cheap international calls to landlines and mobile phones. Providing an interesting set of features for desktop and mobile users, Nimbuzz is certainly worth a look for users looking to add voice and video support to their IM aggregators.
IMO is both an IM webapp and a mobile app that supports a host of popular IM networks. Combining a clean and easy-to-navigate interface with features like multiple account support, concurrent sessions across different devices (and multiple logins on the same account), group messaging and voice, IMO offers a good feature set in a light package. Best of all, you don't even need to create a new account to use IMO's features, simply log in with your existing ones.