Using Instant Messaging as a Support Resource

Once a toy for Internet users, instant messaging is gaining acceptance in the workplace. The future of IM will go far beyond the consumer desktop.

 By Troy Thompson | Posted Oct 17, 2000
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In this article, we'll look at instant messaging (IM) and its growing use in the workplace. What started out as a toy for the Internet is growing in popularity among business users. Many valid applications for this technology exist in the workplace.


Installing IM software packages, for the most part, is straightforward. You download the software of your choice from the Internet and run the associated setup program. Yahoo Messenger installation starts the install wizard, which consists of only six screens (see Figure 1). Some programs, such as AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), require you to choose a screen name and password before you can download the product (see Figure 2).

Figure 1: The Yahoo Messenger install wizard
Figure 1: The Yahoo Messenger install wizard

Figure 2: The AOL Instant Messenger installation program
Figure 2: The AOL Instant Messenger installation program

How It Works

IM is an Internet technology that lets you send and receive text messages, voice messages, file attachments, and other data instantly over the Internet. E-mail is not an instant technology because it sends messages through a server that stores the items until the user retrieves them. Messages arrive in real time using IM because both parties are constantly connected to the network.

When you log on to an IM service, the software informs a server that you are online and ready to receive messages. In order to send messages to another user, you select that person's name from a contact list you've built. You then enter your message and click Send. Depending on which service you use, the server either directly relays the message to the recipient or facilitates a direct connection between you and the recipient.

There are three methods that IM services use to deliver messages: centralized network, peer-to-peer connection, or a combination of both:

  • Centralized network--Connects users to each other through a series of servers that form a large network. When a message is sent, servers find the recipient's PC and route the message through the network until it reaches its destination. MSN Messenger uses this method.

  • Peer-to-peer--Uses a central server to keep track of who is online. Once you log on, the server sends you the IP addresses of everyone on your contact list who is currently logged on. By doing this, messages are sent directly to the recipient without involving a server. This method is faster for sending large files and graphics. ICQ uses this method.

  • Combination--Uses a centralized network of servers for sending text messages, but establishes a peer-to-peer connection for sending large files and graphics. AIM uses this method.

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