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Messages for Mac is buggy. There’s no denying that fact. At some point, all of us have tried to search for a specific message in the app only to be confronted by everyone’s favorite multi-colored symbol of despair.

Several weeks ago, Flexibits, developers of Fantastical for Mac and iPhone, announced a new project called Chatology that would finally solve this issue once and for all. Today, they unveiled the app to the world. So what exactly is Chatology? Does it solve the problem it sets out to solve? Keep reading to get answers to those questions and more.

What is it?

The biggest question that most people had when Chatology was first teased was simple: what does the app actually do? Some assumed that it would be a full-blown messaging suite with improved search features. Others hypothesized that it would be some kind of tweak or plugin for Messages that solved the search problem right in the same app.

The real answer is somewhere in between those two. Chatology is a separate app, not a plugin. However, it doesn’t actually feature any messaging capability. You still have to use the Messages app to send or receive iMessages and IMs on other platforms.

In short, Chatology is a chat log viewer. Messages for Mac saves every conversation you have to a file on your hard drive by default. These chat logs are then used to keep track of threads and conversations in the Messages app. If you delete those files (or disable saving them), your Messages app won’t be able to store the seemingly infinite chat history that you normally see.

It’s these chat logs that Chatology reads. Upon first run, Chatology imports all of these messages (tens of thousands in my case, and probably more for many other users) and catalogs them so that you can easily search them. Chatology also provides some extra search parameters, making it easy to find links or images in a conversation.

Chatology also has the ability to integrate with Messages. When this option is enabled, pressing Command-F in the Messages app brings up Chatology instead of the usual Messages search bar. This feature is very handy if you frequently search your messages but prefer Chatology’s search interface over Apple’s.

Does it work?

Now that we know what Chatology does, let’s address how well it does that. For starters, the design of Chatology makes it somewhat impractical for anything other than searching. If you just want to read a series of messages from yesterday or a few days ago, you’re probably better off scrolling backwards in the Messages app.

Due to the way Chatology separates logs by date, if you don’t know the exact date of the message you’re looking for, it can quickly become a pain to find what you need.

Another factor that can cause some trouble searching Chatology is the sheer number of messages that it stores. Because Chatology stores all of your logs from the Messages app, all of your AIM or Yahoo! messages are also logged, along with those from any services you might use, such as the Amy plugin. In my case, all of my App.net private messages, AIM conversations, and iMessages were imported. That’s a lot of conversations to go through. Even though Chatology searches through them all with no problem, narrowing down the results to the exact message you need can take some time because there’s no way to separate chat logs by the chat service that created them (this is OS X’s fault, not Chatology’s, however).

Yes, Chatology works, and works well. It searches all of the chat logs on your computer with incredible speed. It can separate group chats from individual chats and separate those individual chats by sender, although it currently doesn’t combine multiple addresses into one contact, like Messages for Mac does, so you’ll have multiple entries for the same person if you chat with them on different services or using different iMessage addresses.

What problem?

When Apple finally released OS X 10.8.4 after what seemed like an eternal beta process, the update included fixes for searching in Messages that left the app running smoothly for almost everyone.

This left Flexibits in an odd predicament. They had already positioned themselves as the incoming saviors of chat search, but now Apple had fixed the entire problem they set out to solve. They had been beaten to the punch.

The bottom line

The idea behind Chatology is great, but the execution is flawed. The interface, while simple and lightning fast, makes finding the right message difficult in many cases. The problem it was designed to mitigate no longer exists.

Users who need the ability to search for links or images within conversations will enjoy the ability to do so, but the need to select a specific time and date that the image or link in question was sent essentially negates the usefulness of the feature.

Unfortunately, I’m not sold enough on Chatology to recommend it to most users over the built-in search in Messages. Since the search issue has been resolved in OS X 10.8.4 (and Mavericks), I can’t see much of a need for a separate app to search chat logs, especially one that, in my opinion, makes searching no more efficient than it already is.

A free trial of Chatology is available on the Flexibits website, and the full version can be purchased on the Flexibits web store for $19.99.

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