what is instant messaging

What is Instant Messaging (IM)

May 2, 2018   Instant Messaging

Instant Messaging, otherwise known as IM, is a communication method used by millions of people every day. While the term itself came into existence in the 90s, the first IM systems date back all the way to the 1960s. IM has subsequently seen a huge period of growth, particularly since the 90s, expanding to different platforms and sectors.

But while many people use IM in their everyday lives, many would also struggle to answer the questions of what it exactly is. Answers to this question would certainly have a wide range, and fail to capture all of the different elements and uses of IM. The answer to this question, however, is important, as it can provide good insights into the potential uses for IM both personally and in the business world.

Direct Online Communication

At its core, IM is a real-time online communication method used to connect two or more people. IM software is best known for its direct peer to peer messaging features, such as the messaging pioneered by the now defunct America Online Instant Messenger (AIM). This program, and others like it, initially allowed two ‘contacts’ to directly send and receive real-time text based messages as long as they were both online and logged on to the IM program. This type of ‘chatting’ took off during the 90s, and quickly expanded and grew in terms of uses.

When most people think of IM they usually stop at peer to peer chat and thus view IM as online software used for sending direct text messages. In the previous two decades, however, IM has expanded to include a number of different communication features, not only for personal use, but also for business environments. The recent growth of IM has brought about a range of benefits to both individuals and businesses.

Other Features and Uses

From the peer to peer direct messaging, the field of IM has evolved and developed to include an ever-expanding range of features. Some of the most common features of instant messaging include group chat, where more than two users can communicate via text, video and audio chat, where two contacts can speak directly using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, and directly sending and receiving files. All of these more newly developed features have implications for both personal and business IM.

The area of Business IM, or IM used to support a business’s internal communication, has witnessed a dramatic growth in features for direct team communication and virtual collaboration. Examples of such features include virtual whiteboards, which colleagues can use to present visual images and graphics to each other, and screensharing, which colleagues can use to demonstrate things to each other remotely. The features available in Business IM bring a range of benefits of instant messaging in the workplace.

Potential Drawbacks

As with all online communication and data sharing, there is growing concern with regards to cybersecurity issues related to IM use. Data breaches and malware are some of the common threats that IM users can face when using different programs. Several IM programs seek to provide a comprehensive cybersecurity approach to address these concerns and ensure that users’ data and communications are protected. Business IM security features such as data encryption and direct peer to peer sharing serve to reduce or outright eliminate threats to users.

IM has also traditionally been seen as a potential distraction in the workplace, with some businesses banning personal IM use at work outright. With recent developments in the field of Business IM, however, a growing number of businesses are recognizing the potential benefits of instant messaging to facilitate better team communication and collaboration, with corresponding increases to employee productivity and engagement. IM can produce increased results in these areas, which can help businesses grow and develop, especially when businesses create concrete guidelines and best practices as to how to use IM in the work place.

The Field of IM Going Forward

If the previous 2 decades are any indication, the field of IM will continue to develop in the future, creating even more ways to add value to businesses and keep individuals connected. With the total number of IM users forecast to reach 3.9 billion by 2019, there is great potential for further developments in the years to come. By better understanding what IM is, what its uses are, and how it can benefit people and businesses, each person will be better positioned to take advantage of the exciting developments in this technological field.