What is instant messaging?  – Definition from SearchUnifiedCommunications

What is instant messaging? – Definition from SearchUnifiedCommunications

What is instant messaging?

Instant messaging, often shortened to IM or IM, is the exchange of messages in nearly real time through a standalone application or embedded software. Unlike chat rooms with many users engaged in multiple, overlapping conversations, instant messaging sessions between two users usually take place in a private back-and-forth communication style.

A key feature of many instant messaging clients is the ability to see if a friend or colleague is online and connected through the selected service – a capability known as Presence. With the development of technology, many instant messages customers They added support for features like file transfer and photo sharing within an instant messaging session.

Instant messaging differs from e-mail in the speed of exchange of messages. Instant messaging also tends to be session-based, and has a beginning and an end. Since instant messaging is meant to simulate personal conversations, individual messages are often brief. On the other hand, email usually reflects the style of writing longer letters.

List of instant messaging steps
Instant messaging requires users to communicate through the same application.

How does instant messaging work?

Generally, IM users must know each other’s username or screen name to start a session. Lists of contacts or friends can be created from frequent contacts. Once the intended recipient is identified and selected, the sender opens an instant messaging window to start the session.

For instant messaging to function as intended, users must be online at the same time, although almost all instant messaging systems allow asynchronous interactions between online and offline users. If offline messaging is not supported, an attempt to send instant messages to an unavailable user results in a notification that the sending cannot be completed. In addition, the intended recipient must be willing to accept instant messages. Most instant messaging clients can be configured to decline specific users.

When a message is received, the instant messaging app alerts the recipient with a window—often a popup—containing the incoming message. Or, depending on the user’s settings, a window can indicate the arrival of an instant message with a prompt to accept or decline it. Many instant messaging clients notify the user with a distinct sound, such as a ring or a chirp. The user can also receive a visual notification, such as flashing an instant messaging window or its taskbar icon when a message arrives.

In the past, instant messaging clients mostly relied on proprietary protocols, requiring users to use the same communication software. However, the use of open standards is becoming more and more common today, enabling multi-platform instant messaging systems, such as Pidgin and Trillian.

Another important shift in instant messaging is the way it is accessed and presented. These applications were published long ago as desktop clients that you must download and install. Now, instant messaging is often found as a feature within another web or cloud-based service, such as Facebook, Gmail, and Skype, or as a mobile app, such as WhatsApp Messenger.

Why use instant messaging?

Instant messaging is used to communicate in real time between users on the Internet. Enterprise users and consumers find it an instant, convenient and flexible alternative to email. IM’ing is faster than email and more direct than other asynchronous forms of communication. Users can instant messaging from a range of devices, not just their phones.

Enterprise instant messaging systems allow users to determine their availability, chat with each other, exchange documents, and hold group meetings. Instant messaging is a key form of communication to keep remote workers connected and coordinate workflows. Applications that were primarily for other uses are expanding into IM. For example, Zoom, primarily known for video conferencing, has IM chat features, and the company plans to expand its chat capabilities.

In a consumer context, instant messaging is a useful alternative to texting and SMS messaging because a cellular network is not required for IM’ing. Many social media platforms include instant messaging features.

Chat bots are a different kind from IM’ing. It mimics the user’s experience of exchanging instant messages, but instead of talking to another person, the user is talking to an automated program. Chatbots are used to automate simple customer service requests.

Apps like Pidgin and Trillian offer encrypted messages, which can be used for unarchival conversations and sensitive data, such as personal health information.

Instant Messaging Features

Text communication has always been the main function of instant messaging, but now it is one of its many features. Other capabilities include:

  • Availability. Presence technology allows users to see the availability of their contacts. Many apps show whether your contacts are online or offline and if they have their status set to Free or Busy. Some clients allow users to set a remote message and provide details about its availability. In an active session, many applications indicate in real time when the user is typing.
  • Pictures. Many clients allow users to insert images and emojis into messages.
  • File transfers. Sending and sharing files is also a standard part of many instant messaging applications. Facebook Messenger allows users to send money via instant messages.
  • Switch to other communication modes. Many instant messaging apps allow instant messaging users to switch to other communication modes—such as group chat, voice calls, and video conferencing—within the app.

What are the types of instant messages?

Instant messaging apps are often standalone apps, such as WhatsApp. They can also be built-in apps for various purposes.

Instant messengers can vary depending on which platform they are included in. For example, an instant messaging tool can be included in the following:

  • Social media. For example, Facebook Messenger has a list of Facebook friends with which users can open a conversation in a popup. On a mobile device, Facebook Messenger is a separate app that imports contacts from Facebook and displays them as a list.
  • video conferencing. Zoom has a small chat window on the side of the video that can be used to chat with the whole group or with an individual.
  • games and broadcasting. Twitch is a streaming platform where users can stream and play live video, along with a chat window where they can interact with other users.

When they are standalone applications, they often include features common to platforms, such as the following:

Some of the included software has these cross-platform features as well. For example, Facebook Messenger has a video chat.

Popular instant messaging software and platforms

While some instant messaging tools are specifically consumer services and others are for enterprises, crossovers do exist. Here is a list of popular instant messaging services for consumers and enterprises:

AOL Instant Messenger, or AIM, was once one of the most popular tools in the North American instant messaging market. It was discontinued on December 15, 2017.

What is the difference between instant messaging and text messaging?

Both instant messaging and text messaging involve the exchange of digital messages in real time. However, the two methods of communication are different.

Text messages

Text messaging uses a cellular network to exchange messages. Two cell phone users can communicate via text using any cellular carrier – the carriers don’t need to be the same. Users do not need an internet connection, only cell carrier and cell phone plans. Cellular companies control the cost and message limits for calling via text messages.

instant message

In contrast, instant messaging requires both parties to have internet connections to exchange messages. Communication devices do not have to be phones – they can be computers, tablets, smartphones, or any other device connected to the Internet. Instant messaging apps often require users to connect using the same app. A user cannot send a message on Facebook Messenger to a contact using Microsoft Teams. There may be a delay in sending messages without a proper Internet connection.

Instant messaging is also frequently included as a feature of Unified Communication (UC) tools, such as Zoom. Text messages are less commonly included in these apps.

Unified Communications Features
Instant messaging is an essential component of enterprise unified communications tools that enable a high-quality remote work experience.

Instant messaging and chatting tools are important parts of a unified communications strategy. Learn how Implement, evaluate, and manage unified communications in the organization.

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