Do You IM?

I don’t. Not yet, at least.

But I can ignore a social force (when it has a technological nose cone) for only so long, and it’s been quite a few years now that instant messaging has been around. For all that time, I’ve been like the telephone user who could never understand what email was about: why write when you can call? For me, IM lay in the middle, equidistant betwen email and the telephone, and I couldn’t see the charm of the middle when the extremes were available.

〈parenthesis〉 This has often been my problem, this caroming between poles. Call it “nadirub,” which is sort of the opposite of Buridan and his problem, or, rather the fabled problem of Buridan’s ass, who got stuck in the middle: positioned equidistant between two bales of hay, the poor beast couldn’t decide which one to eat and so starved to death. Nadirub may be wearing off as I age. No promises, though. “〈/parenthesis〉

But IM continues to grow and develop. And I’ve decided it’s time to see what all the fuss is about.

If you’re like me and a tyro in this middle way, you might find Wikipedia on IM a good place to start, because when I began a few days ago I had no idea of how one went about communicating with another person using these devices. Was there one overarching modality and a series of manifestations of it, making it like telephoning, where we all use the same phone lines but you use Primus, and she uses Sprint?

〈parenthesis〉Don’t you find it interesting and odd that one can be adept at one technology — I can do html and css and I can fake a whole bunch of other things — and yet be a complete dunce at others? Means to me that the notion of information technology itself is now simply too vast to be meaningful; we must speak in smaller terms.〈/parenthesis〉

It turns out that the phone analogy is quite wrong. One standard hasn’t dominated yet, and there is a number of services each having its own protocol. In no particular order: Windows Live Messenger, AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, Skype, Google Talk, .NET Messenger Service, Jabber, QQ, iChat, ICQ, and Sametime.

So how do you talk to Person A and Person B if each uses a different service and neither uses yours? Well, basically you have to get an account in the services A and B use as well. Too many icons on the desktop? 〈parenthesis style=”short”〉You do use your desktop, don’t you?〈/parenthesis〉 Well, the thing to do it seems is to get yourself a “multiprotocol instant messaging application.” You can inform this handy app of all of your accounts in the various services, and it will offer you a single interface with which to use them… more or less. The popular ones seem to be Gaim, Trillian, and Adium. (The first is multi-platform — there is Linux, remember? — the second Windows and the third Mac only for the time being.)

Why, you may ask yourself, in a week where we’ve been talking about information overload and techno-straction, would you want to knock another brick out of the rapidly crumbling wall of peace that you hide behind? Good question. Me, I’m a tad garrulous, in case you hadn’t noticed; and even if I weren’t, I need to know what’s going on in the internet, whether I like it or not. But that’s me. What about you? Well, IM isn’t just about text messages. It’s about the struggle to enable you to have a conference with one or many of your colleagues around the world or in the office next door, and to let you exchange your thoughts in voice, text, whiteboard, video, files, and control of your desktop. This is useful. And for the moment it’s free, more useful still.

But it starts with learning how to… type messages in realtime, as it’s called now. And that means learning how to use one or all of the welter of IM tools. Soon.


  1. Fantastic! Thus far I just use AIM and my ID is “connieblogger”.

    Another piece of the puzzle: if you want to IM from your PDA (dude!) you may need third party software. For use of AIM on my blackberry, I loaded Ramble IM by going to this website and having the site email it to my blackberry. Seems to work like a charm.

    Things I like about IM:
    – you can tell when someone is online and willing to talk,
    – you don’t have all that messy back-and-forth email to cleanup; and
    – it somehow seems more immediate than email but not as intrusive as a phone call. Like, when you are waiting for someone in a restaurant and that person is late, he/she could IM you instead of calling your cell phone. So much more polite to the people around you!

  2. Okay – a contrary opinion, I’ve been asking firms for around 3 years whether anyone is using IM, and from the outset, we’ve treated this as a phenomenon for teens. More active teens especially in Europe are texting from mobiles, despite the pain of trying to make 10 numbers do alphabet too.
    But for lawyers, the BlackBerry phenomenon is as instant as they need.
    See next month’s Law Practice magazine for pieces on how lawyers see the BlackBerry

  3. No one is using IM because it hasn’t reached the tipping point generally in organizations yet. Once VoIP is used in more in firms, IM could become more prevalent.

    For service departments wherein individuals aren’t seated together e.g. IS departments or libraries, staff members within that group will be able to pass messages and work back and forth as someone is available. Right now email is a bit cumbersome for this–I walk around to see who is available to do work, and then go back to my desk to forward email requests (those few that come directly to me). Or I send an email out and it takes waiting to hear back from people to know who has the most available time. I’m doing my best to reduce these internal communication inefficiencies so we can spend maximum time actually doing work.

  4. Yes, yes, text messaging is for kids, I’d say (whether on Blackberries or on Nokia’s finest). But IM is about much more: I’m serious about the conferencing possibilities. For a truly earnest manifestation that should impress, not to say cow, even lawyers, take a look at Sametime, a Lotus Notes product (more serious and un-teeny than which few things get.)

  5. I have been IMing for a 4 or 5 years. For social reasons, not for work reasons. I’ve been meaning to give Sametime a close look, and see what’s under the hood.

    Each of the major names has its own features. They pretty much all make it possible to send files, and to communicate using a webcam for sound and video. Connect to outside telephones too, voice or text. Group chat is normally an option as well.

    If one can live with the basic features common to all systems, and wishes to run only a single client, the Jabber protocol is the way to go. Information at, along with lists of clients and public servers. Trillian is popular, but there are many alternatives clients for Windows. My recommendation would be Psi:, which is free. Many free public servers have transports for connecting using Psi and the Jabber protocl to ICQ, AIM, MSN, YahooIM, etc. As far as I know GoogleTalk is still an island unreachable by Jabber transport, but I haven’t checked recently.

    There has been quite a bit of buzz recently for Meebo:, which works with AJAX, and does work with GTalk. Haven’t tried it myself yet.

  6. There hasn’t been a new comment on this item for nearly two weeks. Just in case there is still interest, however, I need to add a correction to my last comment. The reason there is no Jabber transport to GoogleTalk is because GoogleTalk is Jabber-based itself. So using it with Jabber doesn’t involve transports. The GoogleTalk server doesn’t provide any transports to MSN, YIM, etc., but if you’re already using something like Psi with another Jabber server, you can simply add GoogleTalk as an additional account. Instructions for doing this with Psi are available at

    The current state of affairs wirh IM reminds me of the old days of email, when there were a number of proprietary systems, and gateways or transports for passing email from one system to another. Life is simpler now.

  7. Thank you for updating us, John!