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The Rise And Distension Of The Instant Messenger
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Feature Expansion And Real Live Applications

Instant messaging started out as a simple program to chat with friends in real time. However, to compete with their rivals, IM companies keep tacking on new features to every new version of their instant messenger.

The multi-conferencing feature (aka multi-chat feature) enables more than two people to have a real time chat, much like an IRC session. This simple, yet useful feature is one of the reasons why many companies are beginning to use instant messengers in workplaces.

In fact, the company I work at uses Yahoo! Messenger to discuss work matters. We even have full-fledged meetings with our colleagues and managers working overseas. Instant messaging is simply a more cost-effective way of communicating than conventional teleconferencing.

MSN Messenger's voice chat

Other features that got added to the basic messenger include the ability to use personalize emoticons, share files and images as well as have voice chats. In fact, you can also send your friends and relatives a video feed from your webcam while you are chatting!

Instant messengers have certainly made a big impact in our daily lives. Ask yourselves this - can you go through a day without using any instant messenger? Most of us will probably say 'no' as we have come to rely on these messengers to communicate quickly and cheaply with our friends, families and colleagues every day. This will become even more apparent as broadband Internet access becomes more available to users all over the world, allowing them to connect to the Internet 24/7.

Instant messaging also became a critical tool for many to communicate with friends and relatives in times of crisis. Remember 9/11? I found out about the attack from a friend through an ICQ message. It was also via ICQ that I kept in touch with my cousin who was studying in US at that time. Imagine if there were no instant messengers - communication would be very hard, if not impossible.

E-mails are sent almost instantaneously, but we've all experienced occasions when a server goes down or our e-mails are undelivered for a variety of reasons. Besides, e-mails do not quite convey the personal touch of knowing that the person you are talking to is sitting at their desk at that very moment, communicating with you. E-mail feels detached. It's like you are having a disjointed conversation.

Phone and cellular networks may get jammed in times of crisis, due to heavy traffic. But one can always fall back on broadband Internet as a means of communication. And instant messaging is the natural choice.


Feature Distensions

Although some new features that instant messengers come with are actually useful, there are some that do nothing but bloat up the software. Generally, I'm fine with personalization features like Flash-animated avatars, custom skins, custom emoticons, etc.

Yahoo! Messenger's SHOUTCast feature

However, I have noticed that the latest versions of these messengers are getting really resource-hungry. Take the Yahoo! Messenger version 7 for example. A quick look at the Task Manager showed that the client takes up to 38 megabytes of memory!

38MB memory footprint!

If you look at the screenshot above, MSN Messenger takes up as much as 18 megabytes of memory. While MSN Messenger is still quite responsive on my Intel Pentium 3 700MHz notebook with only 256MB of RAM, Yahoo! Messenger gets sluggish from time to time.

In addition, instant messengers like ICQ and MSN Messenger now serve advertisements. While we appreciate the need for advertisements to support such work, they do take up precious desktop space as well as hog bandwidth, particularly when they keep refreshing.

The various entertainment features such as Yahoo! Messenger's Internet radio LAUNCHCast, games and so on, at least in my opinion, are a waste of disk space. Seriously, if I want to play games, I would fire up Spider Solitaire. Internet radio, channels on Windows Media Player or WinAmp's SHOUTCast would be a much better choice; and they are free too!


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