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Best free stuff, 2013 edition: The social butterfly

Ian Paul, Jared Newman, Daniel Ionescu, Brad Chacos | May 28, 2013
Here are the 11 best free tools for the social butterfly

The Social Butterfly
If you're going to while away the hours on social media, you might as well be as efficient as possible at it. Beyond the basic apps and websites for your social network of choice, you can find plenty of free software to help keep you connected.

Frequent users of Facebook chat should give Messenger for Windows a try. This desktop application lets you chat with multiple friends in a single window, and it notifies you of new messages, comments, and photo tags. You can even set the app to appear as a permanent sidebar on your desktop, running alongside whatever else you're doing.

To take your Facebook addiction to the next level, check out Facebook Home, the new launcher for Android that shows status updates and photos directly on your lock screen. Home also includes a useful feature called Chat Heads, which shows incoming texts and other messages on top of whatever app you're in. Although Facebook Home is available for only a handful of Android phones right now, some clever developers have already created a workaroundfor other devices.

For people who don't live and breathe social networking, Snapchat offers a more disposable take. The free app for Android and iPhone lets users send messages and photos that disappear after a set amount of time—perfect for sharing those odd moments that needn't be preserved for posterity. (Facebook has a similar app called Poke, but it's iPhone-only.)

If you'd rather do your messaging away from Facebook's prying eyes, consider Viber, a free alternative to traditional text messaging and voice calls. It offers apps for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry. Unlike Whats-App, its main rival, Viber doesn't have a recurring $1 per year fee. (The company plans to introduce premium services in the future, but existing features will remain free.)

For video chat, Google+ Hangouts remains a cut above the competition. Unlike Skype, Google+ provides group video chat for free, and it also has some fun options such as the ability to watch a YouTube video together. Best of all, you needn't be standing by to receive chat invitations: As long as your friends are still on the call, you can hop in at any time.

Got friends sprawled across several social networks and chat services? Imo is your answer, as it supports chat on AIM, Facebook, Google+, Yahoo, and more, all in a single window. Imo has some noteworthy advanced features such as support for audio messages and file transfers, and optional logging of your chat history. Best of all, when you link multiple accounts together, signing into one through Imo signs you into all of them at once. You can link to Imo through its powerful Web app (available once you sign in on the site), or access it on your iPhone, iPad, or Android device via a mobile app.


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