Facebook has rolled out a small update to profiles, shifting status indicators to the centre of profile pages in an attempt to spur interactivity and also prompt users to utilise the Facebook Chat feature.

Before today’s change, Facebook had alerted users that their friends were online by using a small box labelled “Chat” on the right hand side of a profile. Clicking the button would open a small chat window at the bottom of the Facebook page, prompting the user to start a chat with that person.

With the status indicator now positioned next to a person’s name, Facebook users are able to see at-a-glance if their friends were available, something that they would only be able to see via the “Friends On Chat” section on the side of a users Facebook Wall.

with tooltip 520x245 New Facebook profile status indicators show you when your friends are online

Similar to the old button, clicking the status indicator will instigate a Chat window.

The new placement should also encourage users to post on a friend’s Wall, knowing that they are online to reply. As InsideFacebook points out, it also ties into Facebook’s new Messages platform, directing communication between friend’s regardless of whether they are online:

The same information is implicitly conveyed if a user clicks to send a Message to an available friend and is directed to the Chat window, or tries to Chat an unavailable friend and is notified that their Chat will be delivered to the recipient’s Message inbox.

Therefore, the prominent placement of the online status indicator is probably an attempt on Facebook’s part to increase the number of Chats and Messages sent. Now when a user clicks through to a friend’s profile from a photo or news feed update, they’ll immediately be shown whether they can instantly communicate with that friend. In this way, the green icon serves as an invitation to Chat.

A small change, but a useful one. The feature is enabled on only a select number of profiles at present, and should be enabled for all accounts soon.