Let's get right to the pictures:
This is our "Link Contacts" dialog. Selecting a number of contacts on the left side designates which contacts will be included in the Individual (read: meta-contact) at right.
We currently auto-link contacts with the same service ID (email@example.com) contained in multiple accounts. In the future, we're going to push as much into auto-linking as possible. My goal is that most users would never need to use this dialog. Until then, this dialog is how you designate meta-contacts in Empathy.
If you accidentally link together contacts you didn't mean to, you can simply open the Individual's info dialog and hit Unlink to start over.
One of the first benefits of meta-contacts is pulling together multiple modes of contact for a person into a single place. So if you've got a friend with separate work and personal IM, you can be an upstanding citizen and only send funny cat pictures to their personal IM address. (If they sign on to both at work, at least you tried your best).
We've kept the 1-click Chat/Audio Call/Send File/etc. actions for the (I think, more-common) case that you just want to communicate and you don't care about the specifics. This just uses any valid (ie, online) account for that Individual.
This meta-contacts functionality is all possible thanks to the Folks project. It's a collection of libraries (so far, all distributed together) that collect contact information through various backends (Telepathy so far; many more to come) and aggregate Individuals (ie, People). Empathy was our starting point, but we really plan to integrate very well into the Gnome desktop and beyond. Think: typing
I'll discuss Folks in greater detail in future posts.
I'd like to thank my colleagues Philip "code factory" Withnall for helping with Folks development/Empathy integration and Empathy maintainer Guillaume Desmottes for letting us know exactly what we broke in each commit. And, of course, a special thanks to our employer, Collabora, for sponsoring us to work on this full-time.
Try it now!
Since you're no doubt very excited about these new features in Empathy, you can use them Right Now™ in version 2.31.91 (also coming to Debian experimental shortly). Be sure to file any and all bugs you run into, so this will be as solid a stable release as any other!
If software bugs have you leaping onto the nearest elevated furniture, no problem -- Empathy will, of course, by included in Gnome 2.32, coming to a friendly Linux distribution near you!