A while back, I wrote about an application called TwInbox (previously known as OutTwit) that integrates Twitter and Outlook. (See Using Twitter From Outlook 2007.) TechHit, the company that created TwInbox, has now released a utility called FBLook to incorporate Facebook into Outlook . FBLook is currently in alpha release as FBLook 0.1. This little application, a 320KB download, is released without fee, as was TwInbox.
Installing FBLook requires Office Outlook 2003 SP3 or Outlook 2007. It also seems to work on Outlook 2010 x86, but that version is not currently listed as supported on TechHit’s website. Outlook must be closed for the simple install to complete successfully. FBLook is a simple COM add-on for Outlook as FBLook.dll.
FBLook adds a new toolbar atop the main Outlook interface, as shown in Figure 1. The Facebook logo will initially have the text "Login to Facebook." You need to give permission for FBLook to access and post to your Facebook account. Like any other application requesting Facebook access, you will receive a prompt like the one shown in Figure 2. FBLook uses the Facebook API to query web services, send new status updates, and return Friends’ status updates and user notifications.
To send a new Facebook status update, you enter the text in the text field beside the Facebook logo and click Enter when completed. You can include a link in that field, but there is no way to upload images or other files. It is a basic mechanism for updating a status. The drop-down menu for this field reveals a few basic updates to start with.
The FBLook button presents a drop-down menu as shown in Figure 3. Here you can log out of Facebook and manually check for Facebook updates. To view the status updates of others in your Friends pool, select the drop-down list for the field to the right of the FBLook button, as shown in Figure 4. Friends' updates are listed in text form with the most recent at the top. This list is derived from the XML content returned from Facebook. This content resides in a log file found at C:\Users\<username>\Local\ AppData\TechHit\FBLook\Logs\FBLook.log on Windows 7.
The log file also includes some additional information about the Friends that it returns status updates from—Facebook ID and birthday, if birthday is in the Friend’s Facebook profile. Here is an example of content between the <user> tags in FBLook.log:
<user> <uid>1548916943</uid> <name>William Lefkovics</name> <status> <message>"48 best free apps from Microsoft" http://bit.ly/4SkAwo (including a few I have not yet used) </message> <time>1264491532</time> <status_id>263042842861</status_id> </status> <birthday>October 26</birthday> <wall_count>35</wall_count> </user>
FBLook doesn’t retrieve updates for Facebook pages that you are a fan of or groups of which you are a member. It also doesn’t create a new folder within the Outlook .pst file or Exchange mailbox for status updates (as TwInbox does for Twitter tweets). It stores them in the log file mentioned earlier. The FBLook.log file in testing grew to just over 1MB. It isn’t obvious whether there is circular logging logic applied to this file yet.
FBLook as it stands does not replace more formal Facebook clients or the Facebook.com site itself. It’s an aid that brings basic Facebook functionality into Outlook. Because FBLook uses a text log file and not mail storage, there is no additional use of mailbox resources. TechHit still has some work to do on this product. The current presentation format for the status updates resembles a basic text file. I foresee better presentation and visual separation of updates, perhaps including the avatar images used in Facebook as well. TechHit may also bring the status updates into an Outlook folder for easy archival and searchability.
In Outlook 2010, the Social Connector (which I will describe in a future article) will provide Facebook access to Outlook. FBLook appears to be focused on the current versions of Outlook. Companies should consider their Internet usage policy before deploying this add-on, but for those willing to provide basic Facebook access for their users, FBLook appears to be a reasonable offering.