Instant messaging

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Pidgin 2.0 running under GNOME

Instant messaging (IM) is a form of real-time direct text-based communication between two or more people using personal computers or other devices, along with shared software clients. The user's text is conveyed over a network, such as the Internet. More advanced instant messaging software clients also allow enhanced modes of communication, such as live voice or video calling.


[edit] Definition

IM falls under the umbrella term online chat, as it is a real-time text-based networked communication system, but is distinct in that it is based on clients that facilitate connections between specified known users (often using "Buddy List", "Friend List" or "Contact List"), whereas online 'chat' also includes web-based applications that allow communication between (often anonymous) users in a multi-user environment.[1]

[edit] Overview

Instant messaging (IM) is a collection of technologies used for real-time text-based communication between two or more participants over the Internet, or other types of networks. Of importance is that online chat and instant messaging differs from other technologies such as e-mail due to the perceived synchronicity of the communications by the users –chat happens in real-time. Some systems permit messages to be sent to people not currently 'logged on' (offline messages), thus removing some of the differences between IM and e-mail (often done by sending the message to the associated e-mail account).

IM allows effective and efficient communication, allowing immediate receipt of acknowledgment or reply. In many cases instant messaging includes additional features which can make it even more popular. For example, users can see each other by using webcams, or talk directly for free over the Internet using a microphone and headphones or loudspeakers. Many client programs allow file transfers as well, although they are typically limited in the permissible file-size.

It is typically possible to save a text conversation for later reference. Instant messages are often logged in a local message history, making it similar to the persistent nature of e-mails.

[edit] History

In early instant messaging programs each character appeared when it was typed. The UNIX "talk" command shown in this screenshot was popular in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Instant messaging predates the Internet, first appearing on multi-user operating systems like CTSS and Multics[2] in the mid-1960s. Initially, some of these systems were used as notification systems for services like printing, but quickly were used to facilitate communication with other users logged in to the same machine.[citation needed] As networks developed, the protocols spread with the networks. Some of these used a peer-to-peer protocol (e.g. talk, ntalk and ytalk), while others required peers to connect to a server (see talker and IRC). During the Bulletin board system (BBS) phenomenon that peaked during the 1980s, some systems incorporated chat features which were similar to instant messaging; Freelancin' Roundtable was one prime example.

In the last half of the 1980s and into the early 1990s, the Quantum Link online service for Commodore 64 computers offered user-to-user messages between currently connected customers which they called "On-Line Messages" (or OLM for short). (Quantum Link later became America Online and made AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), discussed later). While the Quantum Link service ran on a Commodore 64, using only the Commodore's PETSCII text-graphics, the screen was visually divided up into sections and OLMs would appear as a yellow bar saying "Message From:" and the name of the sender along with the message across the top of whatever the user was already doing, and presented a list of options for responding.[3] As such, it could be considered a sort of GUI, albeit much more primitive than the later Unix, Windows and Macintosh based GUI IM programs. OLMs were what Q-Link called "Plus Services" meaning they charged an extra per-minute fee on top of the monthly Q-Link access costs.

Modern, Internet-wide, GUI-based messaging clients as they are known today, began to take off in the mid 1990s with PowWow, ICQ, and AOL Instant Messenger. Similar functionality was offered by CU-SeeMe in 1992; though primarily an audio/video chat link, users could also type messages to each other. AOL later acquired Mirabilis, the creators of ICQ; a few years later ICQ (now owned by AOL) was awarded two patents for instant messaging by the U.S. patent office. Meanwhile, other companies developed their own applications (Excite, MSN, Ubique, and Yahoo), each with its own proprietary protocol and client; users therefore had to run multiple client applications if they wished to use more than one of these networks. In 1998 IBM released IBM Lotus Sametime, a product based on technology acquired when IBM bought Haifa-based Ubique and Lexington-based Databeam.

In 2000, an open source application and open standards-based protocol called Jabber was launched. The protocol was standardized under the name "Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol" (XMPP). XMPP servers could act as gateways to other IM protocols, reducing the need to run multiple clients. Multi-protocol clients can use any of the popular IM protocols by using additional local libraries for each protocol. IBM Lotus Sametime's November 2007 release added IBM Lotus Sametime Gateway support for XMPP.

In the current era, social networking providers often offer IM capabilities.

Many instant messaging services offer video calling features, Voice Over IP (VoIP) and web conferencing services. Web conferencing services can integrate both video calling and instant messaging capabilities. Some instant messaging companies are also offering desktop sharing, IP radio, and IPTV to the voice and video features.

The term "Instant Messenger" is a service mark of Time Warner[4] and may not be used in software not affiliated with AOL in the United States. For this reason, the instant messaging client formerly known as Gaim or gaim announced in April 2007 that they would be renamed "Pidgin"[5].

[edit] Clients

Each modern IM service generally provides its own client, either a separately installed piece of software, or a browser-based client. These typically only work with that company's service, although some allow limited function with other services. There are also third party client software applications that will connect with most of the major IM services. Pidgin, Trillian, Meebo, Adium, Qnext, Miranda IM and Digsby are a few of the common ones.

[edit] Interoperability

Pidgin's tabbed chat window in Ubuntu

Standard free instant messaging applications offer functions like file transfer, contact lists, the ability to have simultaneous conversations etc. These may be all the functions that a small business needs but larger organizations will require more sophisticated applications that can work together. The solution to finding applications capable of this is to use enterprise versions of instant messaging applications. These include titles like XMPP, Lotus Sametime, Microsoft Office Communicator, etc., which are often integrated with other enterprise applications such as workflow systems. These enterprise applications, or Enterprise Application Integration (EAI), are built to certain constraints, namely storing data in a common format.

There have been several attempts to create a unified standard for instant messaging: IETF's SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) and SIMPLE (SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions), APEX (Application Exchange), Prim (Presence and Instant Messaging Protocol), the open XML-based XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol), and OMA's (Open Mobile Alliance) IMPS (Instant Messaging and Presence Service) created specifically for mobile devices.

Most attempts at creating a unified standard for the major IM providers (AOL, Yahoo! and Microsoft) have failed, and each continues to use its own proprietary protocol.

However, while discussions at IETF were stalled, Reuters signed the first inter-service provider connectivity agreement on September 2003. This agreement enabled AIM, ICQ and MSN Messenger users to talk with Reuters Messaging counterparts and vice-versa. Following this, Microsoft, Yahoo! and AOL came to a deal where Microsoft's Live Communication Server 2005 users would also have the possibility to talk to public instant messaging users. This deal established SIP/SIMPLE as a standard for protocol interoperability and established a connectivity fee for accessing public instant messaging clouds. Separately, on October 13, 2005 Microsoft and Yahoo! announced that by the 3rd quarter of 2006 they would interoperate using SIP/SIMPLE which was followed on December 2005 by the AOL and Google strategic partnership deal where Google Talk users would be able to talk with AIM and ICQ users provided they have an AIM account.

There are two ways to combine the many disparate protocols:

  1. One way is to combine the many disparate protocols inside the IM client application.
  2. The other way is to combine the many disparate protocols inside the IM server application. This approach moves the task of communicating to the other services to the server. Clients need not know or care about other IM protocols. For example, LCS 2005 Public IM Connectivity. This approach is popular in XMPP servers; however, the so-called transport projects suffer the same reverse engineering difficulties as any other project involved with closed protocols or formats.

Some approaches allow organizations to create their own private instant messaging network by enabling them to limit access to the server (often with the IM network entirely behind their firewall) and administer user permissions. Other corporate messaging systems allow registered users to also connect from outside the corporation LAN, by using a secure firewall-friendly HTTPS-based protocol. Typically, a dedicated corporate IM server has several advantages such as pre-populated contact lists, integrated authentication, and better security and privacy.

Some networks have made changes to prevent them from being utilized by such multi-network IM clients. For example, Trillian had to release several revisions and patches to allow its users to access the MSN, AOL, and Yahoo! networks, after changes were made to these networks. The major IM providers typically cite the need for formal agreements as well as security concerns as reasons for making these changes.

The use of proprietary protocols has meant that many instant messaging networks have been incompatible and people have been unable to reach friends on other networks. This has cost the instant messaging format dearly.[6]

[edit] Mobile instant messaging

Mobile Instant Messaging (MIM) is the technology that allows Instant Messaging services to be accessed from a mobile/cellular device, ranging from a standard cell phone to an iPhone, to a Blackberry, to an Android-based device. It is done two ways:

[edit] In web browser

Gmail has instant messaging capacity in webpage itself, which can be used in a web browser without need of IM client download and install. Later Yahoo and Hotmail also implemented it. Meebo website offers instant messaging of different IM services. Generally such services are limited to text chat, voice and video are not available.

[edit] Friend-to-friend networks

Instant Messaging may be done in a Friend-to-friend network, in which each node connects to the friends on the friends list. This allows for communication with friends of friends and for the building of chatrooms for instant messages with all friends on that network.

[edit] IM language

Users sometimes make use of internet slang or text speak to abbreviate common words or expressions in order to quicken conversations or to reduce keystrokes. The language has become universal, with well-known expressions such as 'lol' translated over to face to face language.

Emotions are often expressed in shorthand, such as the abbreviation LOL, BRB and TTYL (respectively Laugh(ing) Out Loud, Be Right Back and Talk To You Later).

Some, however, attempt to be more accurate with emotional expression over IM. Real time reactions such as (chortle) (snort) (guffaw) or (eye-roll) are becoming more popular. Also there are certain standards that are being introduced into mainstream conversations including, '#' indicates the use of sarcasm in a statement (alternatively (!) after the statement) and '*' which indicates a spelling mistake and/or grammatical error in the previous message, followed by a correction.[7]

[edit] Business application

Instant messaging has proven to be similar to personal computers, e-mail, and the World Wide Web, in that its adoption for use as a business communications medium was driven primarily by individual employees using consumer software at work, rather than by formal mandate or provisioning by corporate information technology departments. Tens of millions of the consumer IM accounts in use are being used for business purposes by employees of companies and other organizations.

In response to the demand for business-grade IM and the need to ensure security and legal compliance, a new type of instant messaging, called "Enterprise Instant Messaging" ("EIM") was created when Lotus Software launched IBM Lotus Sametime in 1998. Microsoft followed suit shortly thereafter with Microsoft Exchange Instant Messaging, later created a new platform called Microsoft Office Live Communications Server, and released Office Communications Server 2007 in October 2007. Oracle Corporation has also jumped into the market recently with its Oracle Beehive unified collaboration software[8]. Both IBM Lotus and Microsoft have introduced federation between their EIM systems and some of the public IM networks so that employees may use a single interface to both their internal EIM system and their contacts on AOL, MSN, and Yahoo!. Current leading EIM platforms include IBM Lotus Sametime, Microsoft Office Communications Server, and Jabber XCP. In addition, industry-focused EIM platforms as Reuters Messaging and Bloomberg Messaging provide enhanced IM capabilities to financial services companies.

The adoption of IM across corporate networks outside of the control of IT organizations creates risks and liabilities for companies who do not effectively manage and support IM use. Companies implement specialized IM archiving and security products and services to mitigate these risks and provide safe, secure, productive instant messaging capabilities to their employees.

[edit] Review of products

IM products can typically be categorised into two types: Enterprise Instant Messaging (EIM) [9] and Consumer Instant Messaging (CIM) [10]. Enterprise solutions use an internal IM server, however this isn't always feasible, particularly for smaller businesses with limited budgets. The second option, using a CIM provides the advantage of being inexpensive to implement and has little need for investing in new hardware or server software.

For corporate use encryption and conversation archiving are usually regarded as important features due to security concerns. Sometimes the use of different operating systems in organizations calls for the use of software that supports more than one platform. For example many software companies use Windows XP in administration departments but have software developers who use Linux.

[edit] Risks and liabilities

Although instant messaging delivers many benefits, it also carries with it certain risks and liabilities, particularly when used in workplaces. Among these risks and liabilities are:

[edit] Security risks

Crackers (malicious "hacker" or black hat hacker) have consistently used IM networks as vectors for delivering phishing attempts, "poison URLs", and virus-laden file attachments from 2004 to the present, with over 1100 discrete attacks listed by the IM Security Center[11] in 2004-2007. Hackers use two methods of delivering malicious code through IM: delivery of viruses, trojan horses, or spyware within an infected file, and the use of "socially engineered" text with a web address that entices the recipient to click on a URL connecting him or her to a website that then downloads malicious code. Viruses, computer worms, and trojans typically propagate by sending themselves rapidly through the infected user's buddy list. An effective attack using a poisoned URL may reach tens of thousands of people in a short period when each person's buddy list receives messages appearing to be from a trusted friend. The recipients click on the web address, and the entire cycle starts again. Infections may range from nuisance to criminal, and are becoming more sophisticated each year.

IM connections usually take place in plain text, making them susceptible to eavesdropping. In addition, IM client software often requires the user to expose open UDP ports to the world, increasing the threat posed by potential security vulnerabilities.[12]

[edit] Compliance risks

In addition to the malicious code threat, the use of instant messaging at work also creates a risk of non-compliance to laws and regulations governing the use of electronic communications in businesses. In the United States alone there are over 10,000 laws and regulations related to electronic messaging and records retention.[13] The better-known of these include the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, HIPAA, and SEC 17a-3. Clarification from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ("FINRA") was issued to member firms in the financial services industry in December, 2007, noting that "electronic communications", "email", and "electronic correspondence" may be used interchangeably and can include such forms of electronic messaging as instant messaging and text messaging.[14] Changes to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, effective December 1, 2006, created a new category for electronic records which may be requested during discovery in legal proceedings. Most countries around the world also regulate the use of electronic messaging and electronic records retention in similar fashion to the United States. The most common regulations related to IM at work involve the need to produce archived business communications to satisfy government or judicial requests under law. Many instant messaging communications fall into the category of business communications that must be archived and retrievable.

[edit] Inappropriate use

Organizations of all types must protect themselves from the liability of their employees' inappropriate use of IM. The informal, immediate, and ostensibly anonymous nature of instant messaging makes it a candidate for abuse in the workplace. The topic of inappropriate IM use became front page news in October 2006 when U.S. Congressman Mark Foley resigned his seat after admitting sending offensive instant messages of a sexual nature to underage former House pages from his Congressional office PC. The Mark Foley Scandal led to media coverage and mainstream newspaper articles warning of the risks of inappropriate IM use in workplaces. In most countries, corporations have a legal responsibility to ensure harassment-free work environment for employees. The use of corporate-owned computers, networks, and software to harass an individual or spread inappropriate jokes or language creates a liability for not only the offender but also the employer. A survey by IM archiving and security provider Akonix Systems, Inc. in March 2007 showed that 31% of respondents had been harassed over IM at work.[15] Companies now include instant messaging as an integral component of their policies on appropriate use of the World Wide Web, e-mail, and other corporate assets.

[edit] Security and archiving

In the early 2000s, a new class of IT security provider emerged to provide remedies for the risks and liabilities faced by corporations who chose to use IM for business communications. The IM security providers created new products to be installed in corporate networks for the purpose of archiving, content-scanning, and security-scanning IM traffic moving in and out of the corporation. Similar to the e-mail filtering vendors, the IM security providers focus on the risks and liabilities described above.

With rapid adoption of IM in the workplace, demand for IM security products began to grow in the mid-2000s. By 2007, the preferred platform for the purchase of security software had become the "computer appliance", according to IDC, who estimate that by 2008, 80% of network security products will be delivered via an appliance.[16]

[edit] User base

Note that many of the numbers listed in this section are not directly comparable, and some are speculative. Some instant messaging systems are distributed among many different instances and thus difficult to measure in total (e.g. XMPP). While some numbers are given by the owners of a complete instant messaging system, others are provided by commercial vendors of a part of a distributed system. Some companies may be motivated to inflate their numbers in order to increase advertisement earnings or to attract partners, clients, or customers. Importantly, some numbers are reported as the number of "active" users (without a shared standard of that activity), others indicate total user accounts, while others indicate only the users logged in during an instance of peak usage.

Service User count Date/source
AIM 53 million active September 2006
>100 million total January 2006
Camfrog unknown [1]
eBuddy 35 million total October 2006, including 4 million mobile users
Gizmo5 [2], mobile and PC
Gadu-Gadu Over 6 million active (majority in Poland) May 2009
IBM Lotus Sametime 40 million total (licensed, entitled users in enterprises) December 2009
iChat unknown [3]
ICQ 50 million active CNET February 8, 2010
IMVU 1 million total June 2007
XMPP 40-50 million total January 2007, based on calculations of Jabber Inc Agent 1 million active (daily) September 2006
Meebo 1 million total October 2006
MXit 11 million total (9 million in South Africa) 29 January 2009.
Paltalk 3.3 million unique visitors per month August 2006
PSYC 1 million active (daily) (majority in Brazil) February 2007. Note that these users are part of the IRC user base, messaging user base consists of a few hundred users
Skype 19 million peak online October 2009
309 million total April 2008
Tencent QQ 61.3 million peak online (majority in China) 29 Oct 2009 [17]
440 million active accounts (includes users with multiple accounts). (majority in China) 29 Oct 2009 [17]
990 million total registered accounts. (majority in China) 29 Oct 2009 [17]
VZOchat >550,000 December 2008
Windows Live Messenger (previously MSN Messenger) 330 million active June 2009
Xfire 16 million total May 2010
Yahoo! Messenger 248 million active registered Yahoo global users (refers to ALL Yahoo users not Instant Messaging users) 17 Jan 2008
Google Talk unknown users. Chat within Gmail, iGoogle, and orkut, All on the web, PC and Mac [4]
Facebook Claimed 400 million users Facebook statistics

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^
  2. ^ Instant Messaging on CTSS and Multics
  3. ^ Screenshot of a Quantum Link OLM
  4. ^ Summary of final decisions issued by the trademark trial and appeal board, January 16-20, 2006
  5. ^ "Important and Long Delayed News", Announcement of Gaim renaming (to Pidgin), April 6, 2007
  6. ^
  7. ^ Instant Messaging,
  8. ^ "Oracle Buzzes with Updates for its Beehive Collaboration Platform". CMSWire. 2009-05-06. Retrieved 2009-07-16. 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ "IM Security Center". Retrieved 2007-05-13. 
  12. ^ "Why just say no to IM at work". 2009-10-29. ISSN 1797-1993. Retrieved 2009-10-29. 
  13. ^ "ESG compliance report excerpt, Part 1: Introduction".,289483,sid5_gci906152,00.html. Retrieved 2007-05-13. 
  14. ^ FINRA, Regulatory Notice 07-59, Supervision of Electronic Communications, December 2007
  15. ^ "Akonix Warns Corporations of Risqué Employee IM Behavior". Retrieved 2007-05-13. 
  16. ^ Chris Christiansen and Rose Ryan, International Data Corp., "IDC Telebriefing: Threat Management Security Appliance Review and Forecast"
  17. ^ a b c

[edit] External links