Prior to 1996, communication was a slow and deliberate process, considering one's choices were limited to telephones, letters, and face-to-face contact. Even E-mail took a while to send and receive replies and was too slow for some. The idea of sending discussion online was beginning to blossom in the mid-nineties with the introduction of online bulletin and discussion boards. Online services such as AOL, Compuserve and Prodigy offered instant messaging to their own customers, but it wasn't long before Mirablis, a a company founded by four Israeli programmers, introduced ICQ, a free instant-messaging utility that anyone could use. ICQ (which was shorthand for "I seek you") used a client, which is a real-time tool that uses a software application that resides on a computer. ICQ was aquired by AOL in 1998, and is now a part of AOL's suite of online services.
Instant Messaging, or IM for short, is a way of communicating via typing on a PC, wireless phone, or other Internet appliance or device. Using something called presence, which is the capability to alert the user to whenever somebody on their private list is online, the user can create a private chat room with another individual and exchange messages across the internet or network. IM differs from a chat room by having the conversation between only two people, rather than several people. Besides just sending messages to other users, most instant messaging services also allow users to create chatrooms and transfer files, as well as allowing webcams and streaming content, such as stocks and news updates.
Although the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is developing a standard protocol for instant messaging, called the Instant Messaging and Presence Protocol, there currently is no standard of instant messaging as of now, which means that both people need to use the same instant messaging service due to each service having its own proprietary protocol that is not understood by other instant messaging services. (There are exceptions to this with programs such as Omni and Trillian.) In a panel discussion about the importance of IM and e-mail, Kieran McCorry, a principal consultant in Hewlett-Packard's technology leadership group, explained the protocal problem by saying, "IM is kind of like the way e-mail was ten years ago, because we've got all these islands and a lack of interoperability." With tens of millions of subscribers, AOL has quickly become one of the most popular instant messaging service with America Online as well as America Online Instant Messenger (or AIM for short). Due to such a large number of subscribers to AOL, AIM became so popular because it allows connects and allows AOL members to communicate with non-members, which is a service other IM utilities have not been able to provide. Other instant messaging services include MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger, both of which are similar to AIM, but have not gained as much popularity. Services...