Enable Data Detectors in iChat in 10.5

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OS X 10.5’s Mail application includes something Apple calls Data Detectors which can be quite useful. Basically, Mail watches for words that might indicate a meeting, address, or phone number, and calls them out with an outline box and drop-down arrow when you mouse over them. Click the drop-down arrow, and a contextual menu lets you do things like create a new contact using the information, add the information to an existing contact, show a map of an address, or create appointments based on the date and event info in the email message. They’re really useful.

After using them for a bit, there’s another app where it seems they’d also be useful—iChat. And while Apple didn’t actually enable Data Detectors in iChat, they did include the technology, and you can enable them yourself with one simple Terminal command. First quit iChat if it’s running, then enter this command and press Return:

defaults write com.apple.iChat EnableDataDetectors 1

You won’t see anything other than a new prompt in Terminal, but now launch iChat, start a chat with a buddy, and type something like “How about lunch tomorrow?” Now mouse over that text, and you should see the familiar outline box and drop-down arrow, letting you easily add the event to iCal.

In testing this hint, I think I understand why Apple left Data Detectors disabled in iChat—at times, they seem to simply stop working; dates and addresses will no longer highlight when you mouse over them. However, this is relatively easy to fix, too. To make Data Detectors start working again, all you need to do is change the display settings for iChat messages, then change them back. For instance, if you normally have your chats set up to view as boxes (my favorite), you’d fix Data Detectors by selecting View -> Messages -> Show as Balloons, then immediately selecting View -> Messages -> Show as Boxes. As soon as you do this, Data Detectors will start working again. To make this process easier, I assigned keyboard shortcuts to the Show as Balloons (I used Shift-Control-1) and Show as Boxes (Shift-Control-2) menu items in the Keyboard Shortcuts section of the Keyboard & Mouse System Preferences panel. So I can fix my broken Datat Detectors just by typing Shift-Control-1, then Shift-Control-2.

If you decide you’d rather wait for Apple to work out the kinks, here’s how to disable iChat’s Data Detectors. First quit iChat, return to Terminal, and repeat the above command, but change the 1 at the end to a 0. Relaunch iChat, and you’ll be free of Data Detectors.

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