Instant messaging ( IM) is a type of online chat that offers real-time text transmission over the Internet. A LAN messenger operates in a similar way over a local area network. Short messages are typically transmitted between two parties, when each user chooses to complete a thought and select "send". Some IM applications can use push technology to provide real-time text, which transmits messages character by character, as they are composed. More advanced instant messaging can add file transfer, clickable , Voice over IP, or video chat.
Non-IM types of chat include multicast transmission, usually referred to as "chat rooms", where participants might be anonymous or might be previously known to each other (for example collaborators on a project that is using chat to facilitate communication). Instant messaging systems tend to facilitate connections between specified known users (often using a contact list also known as a "buddy list" or "friend list"). Depending on the IM protocol, the technical architecture can be peer-to-peer (direct point-to-point transmission) or client-server (an Instant message service center retransmits messages from the sender to the communication device).
IM allows effective and efficient communication, allowing immediate receipt of acknowledgment or reply. However IM is basically not necessarily supported by transaction control. In many cases, instant messaging includes added features which can make it even more popular. For example, users may see each other via , or talk directly for free over the Internet using a microphone and or loudspeakers. Many applications allow file transfers, although they are usually limited in the permissible file-size.
It is usually 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 emails.
Though the term dates from the 1990s, instant messaging predates the Internet, first appearing on multi-user Operating system like Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS) and Multiplexed Information and Computing Service (Multics) 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 into the same machine. 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). The Zephyr Notification Service (still in use at some institutions) was invented at MIT's Project Athena in the 1980s to allow service providers to locate and send messages to users.
Parallel to instant messaging were early online chat facilities, the earliest of which was Talkomatic (1973) on the PLATO system, which allowed 5 people to chat simultaneously on a 512x512 plasma display (5 lines of text + 1 status line per person). 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. The firstCompuServe Innovator Resigns After 25 Years, The Columbus Dispatch, May 11, 1996, p. 2F such general-availability commercial online chat service (as opposed to PLATO, which was educational) was the CompuServe CB Simulator in 1980,Wired and Inspired, The Columbus Dispatch (Business page), by Mike Pramik, November 12, 2000 created by CompuServe executive Alexander "Sandy" Trevor in Columbus, Ohio.
Early instant messaging programs were primarily real-time text, where characters appeared as they were typed. This includes the Unix "talk" command line program, which was popular in the 1980s and early 1990s. Some BBS chat programs (i.e. Celerity BBS) also used a similar interface. Modern implementations of real-time text also exist in instant messengers, such as AOL's Real-Time IM as an optional feature.
In the latter half of the 1980s and into the early 1990s, the Quantum Link online service for Commodore 64 computers offered user-to-user messages between concurrently connected customers, which they called "On-Line Messages" (or OLM for short), and later "FlashMail." (Quantum Link later became America Online and made AOL Instant Messenger (AIM, discussed later). While the Quantum Link client software ran on a Commodore 64, using only the Commodore's PETSCII text-graphics, the screen was visually divided 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. As such, it could be considered a type of graphical user interface (GUI), albeit much more primitive than the later Unix, Windows and Macintosh based GUI IM software. 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 send textual messages to each other. AOL later acquired Mirabilis, the authors of ICQ; a few years later ICQ (then owned by AOL) was awarded two patents for instant messaging by the U.S. patent office. Meanwhile, other companies developed their own software; (Excite, MSN, Ubique, and Yahoo!), each with its own proprietary protocol and software 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.
As of 2010, social networking providers often offer IM abilities. Facebook Chat is a form of instant messaging, and Twitter can be thought of as a Web 2.0 instant messaging system. Similar server-side chat features are part of most , such as OKCupid or PlentyofFish. The spread of and similar devices in the late 2000s also caused increased competition with conventional instant messaging, by making text messaging services still more ubiquitous.
Many instant messaging services offer videotelephone features, voice over IP and web conferencing services. Web conferencing services can integrate both video calling and instant messaging abilities. 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 and may not be used in software not affiliated with AOL in the United States. For this reason, in April 2007, the instant messaging client formerly named Gaim (or gaim) announced that they would be renamed "Pidgin". "Important and Long Delayed News", Announcement of Gaim renaming (to Pidgin), April 6, 2007
Standard complementary instant messaging applications offer functions like file transfer, contact list(s), the ability to hold several 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 Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE), Application Exchange (APEX), Instant Messaging and Presence Protocol (IMPP), the open XML-based Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), and Open Mobile Alliance's Instant Messaging and Presence Service developed specifically for mobile devices.
Most attempts at producing 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 in 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 agreed to a deal in which Microsoft's Live Communications 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 groups or services. 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, in December 2005, by the AOL and Google strategic partnership deal in which Google Talk users would be able to communicate with AIM and ICQ users provided they have an AIM account.
There are two ways to combine the many disparate protocols:
Some approaches allow organizations to deploy their own, private instant messaging network by enabling them to restrict 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 an encrypted, firewall-friendly, HTTPS-based protocol. Usually, a dedicated corporate IM server has several advantages, such as pre-populated contact lists, integrated authentication, and better security and privacy.
Certain networks have made changes to prevent them from being used 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 usually cite the need for formal agreements, and security concerns as reasons for making these changes.
The use of proprietary protocols has meant that many instant messaging networks have been incompatible and users have been unable to reach users on other networks. This may have allowed social networking with IM-like features and text messaging an opportunity to gain market share at the expense of IM.
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 and '*' which indicates a spelling mistake and/or grammatical error in the prior message, followed by a correction. instant messaging , NetworkDictionary.com.
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. Both IBM Lotus and Microsoft have introduced federation between their EIM systems and some of the public IM networks so that employees may use one interface to both their internal EIM system and their contacts on AOL, MSN, and Yahoo. As of 2010, leading EIM platforms include IBM Lotus Sametime, Microsoft Office Communications Server, Jabber XCP and Cisco Unified Presence. Industry-focused EIM platforms such as Reuters Messaging and Bloomberg Messaging also provide IM abilities 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 abilities to their employees. IM is increasingly becoming a feature of enterprise software rather than a stand-alone application.
For corporate use, encryption and conversation archiving are usually regarded as important features due to security concerns. There are also a bunch of open source encrypting messengers. Sometimes the use of different operating systems in organizations requires use of software that supports more than one platform. For example, many software companies use Windows in administration departments but have software developers who use Linux.
An Instant Message Service Center ( IMSC) is a network element in the mobile phone network which delivers instant messages. When a user sends an IM message to another user, the phone sends the message to the IMSC. The IMSC stores the message and delivers it to the destination user when they are available. The IMSC usually has a configurable time limit for how long it will store the message. Few companies who make many of the IMSCs in use in the GSM world are Miyowa, Followap and OZ. Other players include Acision, Colibria, Ericsson, Nokia, Comverse Technology, Now Wireless, Jinny Software, Miyowa, Feelingk and few others.
Viruses, , and trojans usually propagate by sending themselves rapidly through the infected user's contact list. An effective attack using a poisoned URL may reach tens of thousands of users in a short period when each user's contact 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 sometimes occur in plain text, making them vulnerable to eavesdropping. Also, IM client software often requires the user to expose open UDP ports to the world, raising the threat posed by potential security vulnerabilities.
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.FINRA, Regulatory Notice 07-59, Supervision of Electronic Communications, December 2007 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.
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.Chris Christiansen and Rose Ryan, International Data Corp., "IDC Telebriefing: Threat Management Security Appliance Review and Forecast"
By 2014 however, the level of safety offered by instant messengers was still extremely poor. According to a scorecard made by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, only 7 out of 39 instant messengers received a perfect score, whereas the most popular instant messengers at the time only attained a score of 2 out of 7. A number of studies have shown that IM services are quite vulnerable for providing user privacy.
Since the acquisitions of 2010 and later and with the wide availability of smartphones, the virtual communities of those conglomerates are becoming the user base of most instant messaging services:
|AIM||AOL||2.2 million active users (February 2015)|
|BlackBerry Messenger||BlackBerry||91 million total users (October 2014) 91 million Active BBM Users. Retrieved 6 March 2015|
|Discord||Discord inc.||25 million users (December 2016)|
|eBuddy||eBuddy||250 million users (September 2011) Data for September 2011|
|Facebook Messenger||Facebook Inc||900 million active users (April 2016) 900 million active users. Retrieved 7 April 2016|
|Hike Messenger||Hike Messenger||70 million active users (October 2015). Retrieved 29 November 2017|
|Gadu-Gadu||GG Network S.A.||6.5 million users active daily (majority in Poland) (June 2010)|
|IBM Sametime||IBM||15 million (enterprise) users (Unknown)|
|ICQ||ICQ LLC.||11 million total users (July 2014)|
|iMessage||Apple Inc.||140 million users (June 2012)|
|IMVU||IMVU, inc.||1 million users (June 2007)|
|MXit||MXit Lifestyle (Pty) Ltd.MXit federates with the Google Talk network.||7.4 million monthly subscribers (majority in South Africa (July 2013) SA Social Media Landscape 2014, World Wide Worx|
|Paltalk||Paltalk.com||5.5 million monthly unique users (August 2013)|
|Tencent QQ||Tencent Holdings Limited||176+ million peak online users, 840+ million Tencent QQ (Q2 2009) TENCENT ANNOUNCES 2009 SECOND QUARTER AND INTERIM RESULTS|
|Skype||Microsoft Corporation||34 million peak online (February 2012), 560 million total (April 2010)On October 24, 2012 Skype 6.0 () connected users on Yahoo, WLM, Skype, and Facebook networks. Facebook excluded, this amounts to 83% of worldwide IM desktop client market share based on data from June 2011. ()|
|Windows Live Messenger||Microsoft Corporation||330 million active monthly (June 2009)|
|Xfire||Xfire, Inc.||24 million registered users (January 2014)|
|XMPP (Protocol used by multiple clients)||XMPP Standards Foundation||1200+ million (September 2011)This number is based on the number of Facebook accounts () Google talk and WLM accounts. () Further, as there are many other open source servers (some also with companies behind it), the number provided is probably too small. However, many of these servers are not federated, and so, do not actually interact as is usually expected of XMPP servers.|
|Yahoo! Messenger||Yahoo!, Inc.||22 million users (Unknown)|
|Tencent||889 million users (2016)|
|1200 million monthly active users (January 2017)|
|Line||Naver Corporation||217 million monthly active users (2016)|
|Telegram||Telegram Messenger LLP||100 million monthly active users (2016)|