Instant messaging has been around for about 10 years. To most teenagers, instant messaging is essential for communicating with friends and family. It may surprise you to know that instant messaging features go way beyond relaying idle chitchat and that it offers some smart communications solutions. . Some 940 million instant messaging accounts are currently active, and some 1.4 billion people are expected to use real-time online communications by 2010.
Downloads are free, and you have several proven choices when you’re ready to select instant messaging (IM) software. AOL, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are four of the big online companies that offer good IM services. Unfortunately, there is no common instant messaging protocol, which means - with the exception of Microsoft’s Windows Live Messenger
(previously dubbed MSN Messenger
) and Yahoo! Messenger
, which are interoperable - you can only send instant messages to people who use the same service that you do. With this in mind, your first task is to determine which service your contacts and colleagues use-or plan to use. Here is a quick overview of the respective merits of the major instant messaging (IM) players.
- AOL- Aim
Aim is a popular IM, but its clout may be diminished by the interoperability partnership recently offered by Yahoo! Messenger and Windows Live Messenger. AOL is about to launch a new version with all the "bells and whistles" including video-conferencing, integrated Web-based email, PC-to-phone telephony (with free incoming calls), and added plug-ins like message broadcasting with more exciting add-ons promised for the near future. It also has the added capability to synchronize with Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express address lists. If this sounds good to you, you might want to check out the beta version that is currently available, to see if you find it user-friendly. Like most IM networks, there’s no interactive support to help with trouble-shooting - FAQ sheets, help files, and email requests are your options if you have problems.
- Google Talk
A newcomer to the IM world, Google is about to upgrade from beta to provide consumers with new IM software. Google Talk provides only the basics at this time - which means text messaging and PC-to-PC calling -no videoconferencing or file-sharing...yet. On the plus side, like most Google products, it is intuitively designed and users report fast and easy installation. It is built on an open-source format and is compatible with other third-party IM services like Apple’s iChat, but"as yet" you can’t reach your contacts that use Yahoo! or Windows Live.
- Microsoft- Windows Live Messenger
Serving more than half of the worldwide IM market, Microsoft is the big player in this field. Windows Live Messenger provides just about every IM service a user might require, including: PC-to-PC, and PC -to-phone calling, video-conferencing, and file-sharing. However, you will need to rebuild your contacts database from scratch, because there is no way to import data from your existing Microsoft mailing lists. The interoperability agreement with Yahoo! (See below) can only enhance Live Messenger’s reach and its appeal to consumers.
- Yahoo! Messenger
Just like Windows, Yahoo Messenger offers a full range of services and features that demonstrate how IM has evolved way beyond its humble beginnings. Users can share files, digital photos, and even music with other Yahoo! and Windows Live messaging users. The software is user-friendly and intuitive, and installs easily.
There are other options out there, including aggregators who act as a channel through which you are able to connect with various IM networks. The drawback with them is that you won’t access the more cutting-edge functions like video conferencing, and you’ll need some technical savvy to connect with the specific network you want.
Advanced functions and new breakthrough capabilities offer some exciting new real-time communications options for busy entrepreneurs and small business owners. Perhaps it’s time to get in the loop.