The Rise And Distension Of Instant Messengers
Many people believe that e-mails were the best technology that ever came about after computers were connected to the Internet. After all, it was e-mail that powered the Internet's amazing growth. But contrary to common belief, I personally think that instant messaging (IM) is the technology that really made the Internet what it is today.
Unbeknownst to most people, instant messaging started off in the Internet fledgling days. Back then, it first appeared in the form of UNIX's talk program. Early Internet adopters, who were mostly engineers and academians of various universities, used this talk program to communicate and discuss their work and research over the Internet.
But it wasn't until an unknown Isreali company called Mirabilis released a nifty little program called ICQ in November 1996 that instant messaging exploded into the mainstream.
Short for 'I seek you', ICQ took the Internet by storm and eventually outgrew even the IRC (Internet Relay Chat) craze. Everyone seemed to fall instantly in love with the ability to instantly transmit and receive message with each other. It was like using a free telephone, only better!
ICQ, the grand-daddy of modern instant messengers!
Since ICQ broke into the scene, two other major Instant messaging providers have emerged - namely MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger. Now, they are all competing against each other in a fierce battle to gain control of the market and establish themselves as the dominant standard.
However, despite this fierce competition, it's not uncommon for a user to be a member of all three major IM networks! With everything is still in a state of flux, it certainly makes sense to be connected on all three networks.
The Rise Of Instant Messaging
In the early days of the Internet, e-mail and instant messaging were mainly used as a cheaper alternative to regular forms of communications. This was especially true for communications between distant countries and states. Suddenly, the world became a much smaller place. It was much easier and a lot cheaper to get in touch with friends, colleagues and companions abroad.
Before the Internet, you either had to travel to the destination country or make an international call in order to communicate quickly with someone in another country. We all know how expensive that can be. It was not easy or economical to keep in touch often. You could probably write a snail mail or even a telegram if we want to get the message across at a cheaper cost but we all know how slow and tedious those methods are.
Then the Internet came along, opening up a whole new world of possibilities. First and foremost, a faster means of communication. By electronically transmitting text and files via e-mail, the sender can get his message across the globe within seconds! E-mails also do not have the disadvantage of limited verbosity or high cost that restricts traditional forms of "instant" communications like telegrams.
The convenience of e-mails
Everyone agrees that e-mail was one of the best applications of the Internet. Indeed, it continues to be very useful and relevant today, particularly in business communications. How can one forgo using e-mail in today's electronically-connected world?
But let's not forget instant messaging. It also played a large part in shaping the Internet community. By providing real-time, instantaneous chatting capabilities, very much like that of IRC, instant messaging gave users the Internet equivalent of a phone system, albeit using text instead of audio. Instant messaging was actually even more flexible, by allowing users to carry out multiple conversations at the same time and later, incorporating multi-user conferencing capabilities as well.
The Big Bang
Instant messaging started small and only starting growing in popularity relatively late. But when it started growing, man, was that some big bang!
When I was first introduced to the Internet realm back in 1995, everyone was just talking about e-mail and IRC. They were the coolest Internet applications back then. That was until ICQ made instant messaging people-friendly. Remember, while UNIX's talk program was the first instant messenger, it required a level of technological knowledge that made it all but accessible to the layperson.
And so ICQ's popularity exploded. It used the extremely effective word-of-mouth method to gain popularity. The number of people signing up for the free service grew exponentially. In fact, within a few months, millions was already sending text messages to each other using ICQ!
As of the moment this article was written, ICQ boasts a membership number that's staggering - 220,530,583 users! Both MSN and Yahoo! will, of course, claim to have about as many users as ICQ. But no matter who has the most share of the market, such explosive growth is certainly awe-inspiring.
ICQ's 200 million downloads record!
Claim of such huge user bases by each instant messaging network isn't far-fetched. It doesn't take much for each user to rope in a bunch of friends and relatives, who in turn rope in a few more of their friends or relatives. In addition, many users sign up with two or all three of the major IM networks. This allows them to keep in touch with everyone.