What is IM?
Instant messaging (or IM for short) is a technology used for real-time text-based communication generally between two people over the Internet. Instant messaging differs from other technologies such as e-mail in that there is perceived synchronicity of the communication – the communication happens in real-time. In IM, words typed into the program appear virtually simultaneously on the screens of one or more other people. Recipients can then respond instantly to the initial sender. Thus IM is faster, more conversational and more casual than email.
Another difference between IM and email is the idea of presence. In IM, you are aware when other users have logged in and are willing to accept messages. Unlike email, IM messages can only be sent to those who are logged into the system and accepting messages. If someone is not logged in, you cannot send that person a message.
Socially, email is perceived as being formal while IM is very informal. Most emails are written like a handwritten letter in which grammar and spelling are seriously considered. In IM, communication flows more like a conversation; spelling and punctuation matter less. The formality of IM does depend, however, on the environment in which the IM is being used. Corporate IM is usually more formal in that spelling is considered important but not capitalization.
General IM Terminology
- Contact list: this is your list of people with whom you can chat. In order to chat with someone, you must add them to your contact list and they must accept your request to add them.
- Status: the status is how you communicate your availability to your contacts. You can either be available (ready to accept messages), away (unavailable or not at your desk) or do not disturb (not accepting messages). You can choose from the standard statuses or you can write your own custom status.
- Chat window: this where you converse with those in your contact list. When you initiate a chat, the conversation will take place in the chat window. You may have multiple conversations (chat sessions) in your chat window.
- Group Chat: the ability for 3 or more people to converse together at the same time.
- Groups: a way of organizing your contacts, similar to using folders.
- Send File: the ability to send a file to a contact without using email. Often, it is referred to as a file transfer.
- Smileys: also known as emoticons, are a text-based graphics representing an emotional response. Although called a smiley, they can represent anger, sadness, embarrassment, and many other emotions. They are used to add tone and feeling to the otherwise impersonal nature of text-based communication. In many IM programs, the written smiley will be converted to a picture when your message is sent.