Instant Messaging

Category: Software

Instant Messaging (IM) services allow you to connect directly with other computer users and engage in text, audio or video conversations. Unlike email, blogs or chat rooms, instant messaging provides real time one-to-one conversations. Here's the scoop on the most popular IM software packages...

Instant Messaging (IM) clients

Popular Instant Messaging Services

In most cases, IM systems are free to sign up for and use, with minimal advertisements. Through the years, there have been many Instant Messaging systems that have come and gone. These five are currently the most popular:

  • AIM - America Online created an IM system early on in the game when Instant Messaging was just getting started. AIM features the ability to swap files and play games with others. It also allows you to save your conversations. AIM makes it possible for someone to be online but not 'viewable' and still be able to chat. AIM appears to be the most popular IM system available, with over 100 million users in 2006.
  • MSN Messenger - Microsoft's Messaging service was recently rebranded as Microsoft Live Messenger. The newer version has the ability to make PC-to-PC calls and many of the same features as AIM. MSN has been popular for many companies that allow workers to telecommute. It has the ability to 'make announcements' to make it easier to pass a message to all workers. This service also features the ability to save your conversations to a log file.
  • Yahoo Messenger - This is Yahoo's Instant Messaging service, and features online games and the ability to create large group chats. It is also connected to Yahoo's popular public chat rooms, so you can chat online with people and go to IM if needed.
  • ICQ - With MSN, Yahoo and AOL controlling at least 90% of the IM users, you may be surprised at other systems actually competing and doing well. While not having nearly so many users, ICQ has been around for a long time. Released in 1996, it now has features that allow you to send an SMS message to cell phones.
  • Google Talk - New to the Instant Messaging field, this IM system is integrated into Google's Gmail service. One big plus is that there is nothing to download. Google Talk is web-based and shares your Gmail address list. Although Google Talk is late to the IM party, with the popularity of Gmail, it still might be able to gain some traction in this competitive arena.

Let's Talk Together

The problem with many of the IM services is interoperability, or rather the lack thereof. If you have one IM system, and your friends have different ones, you may not be able to exchange messages unless you download and run all of them at the same time. One good solution to this problem is a universal IM client, which allows you to connect to other users on a variety of IM services.

Trillian, Pidgin (formerly Gaim) and Miranda and all free Windows-based IM services that allow you to chat with others on AIM, MSN, Yahoo, ICQ and a variety of other IM systems. Mac users looking for a universal IM client can check out Adium.

While you still have to register your usernames with the individual services, each system allows you to chat with all of your friends on all systems using one piece of running software. This largely solves the problem for people trying to IM many people at once without having each individual system running and taking up system resources.

A Love/Hate Relationship?

Most people seem to have strong opinions about IM-ing, either they love it or they hate it. Are you part of the "instant gratification communication" crowd that wants to be heard and get answers NOW? Or do you seek an uninterrupted work flow, with time for sending and receiving messages when it's convenient for you?

Personally I find instant messaging rather annoying, because it's like a person ringing doorbell who just won't go away. The expectation with IM'ers is that if you are online, you will respond right away. I prefer email because I can respond to messages when I'm good and ready, or not at all. But I've also noticed that teens and college students are using IM as their primary communication tool, with email a distant second. So the choice may depend on who you want to reach.

One thing is clear... whether for fun or for work, Instant Messaging services are here to stay. Which one is your personal favorite? What features do you like most in an IM client?

 
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