Part 3 of 3: Instant Messaging Clients

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This is the third and last part of the series on instant messaging. In the first article, I shared with you how to get the most value out of instant messaging and in the second article, you could learn instant messaging etiquette. In this blog post, I‘ll give you an overview of the trends I am seeing in the consumer and enterprise space and the various instant messaging clients in the market today.

Trends in Instant Messaging

When instant messaging clients were first introduced you could only chat with people that had the same instant messaging client. So if you had Yahoo messenger you could only chat with other people who also had Yahoo messenger. This is actually quite silly. Imagine if you could only call people that had the same brand of phone that you had. Today there is an ongoing trend of instant messaging clients opening up and enabling users to connect and chat with other users that use a different client. Another trend is the integration of social updates. Today, being able to send short, instant text messages and seeing one another’s presence are taken for granted, users now demand richer social status updates – where your friends are, what they like, what they are reading and what music they are listening to, etc.

In the workplace, instant messaging is a part of the bigger term “Unified Communications”. The trends here are that companies are looking for cheaper ways to offer telephony over the Internet, web conferencing solutions that can reduce traveling costs and more and more support for mobility. Businesses have higher demands for security, logging and monitoring so the solutions they are looking for differ quite drastically from those that are available in the consumer market.

Traditional Instant Messaging Clients

Below is a high-level overview of some of the most common instant messaging clients today, I have not included those applications that are web-based (for instance Facebook instant messaging), only those that you install on your computer.

QQ IM – If you just look at the number of users, the largest instant messaging client is Tencent QQ Instant Messenger which according to Tencent had 711.7 million users as of Sep 30, 2011. You might not be familiar with this client since the majority of users are in China. In addition to instant messaging QQ also offers games, virtual pets, ringtone downloads, blogs, etc.

Skype – Skype, which has been a lot in the media lately due to the acquisition by Microsoft that was officially announced on October 13th, 2011, is another major instant messaging client. At the end of 2010, there were 663 million Skype users worldwide. Skype is very popular for making free calls over the Internet using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). With Skype, you can also call landline phones (though this is not free). In the latest version of Skype, you can also connect with your Facebook friends.

Windows Live Messenger – Many people might be familiar with MSN Messenger which was the name of this Instant Messaging client before Microsoft renamed it to Windows Live Messenger in 2006. In September 2010, Windows Live Messenger had over 303 million active users, however, according to a recent report by OPSWAT, Windows Live Messenger had the largest market share of installed instant messaging clients with 40.67%. Windows Live Messenger allows you to chat with people using YahooMessenger and Facebook. In addition to chat, Windows Live Messenger enables you to talk to each other over the Internet, have videoconferences, play games and more.

Yahoo Messenger! – Even though it’s difficult to find updated figures on the number of users of Yahoo Messenger, it is still a popular instant messaging client. According to the report by OPSWAT, it is number three in terms of market share with 15.11%. In addition to the common features of other instant messaging clients, Yahoo Messenger also provides access to Yahoo chat rooms and is also popular for its personalization capabilities and integration with Yahoo’s image sharing site Flickr. In the latest release of the instant messaging client, Yahoo introduced integration with Facebook.

Other instant messaging clients that have users in the tens of millions are Gtalk (owned by Google) and AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). Google and AOL are now taking their partnership to another level by further improving the interoperability between their various offerings. For those of you who started early with instant messaging, you might be familiar with ICQ which was launched in 1996. ICQ was sold in 2010 by AOL to a Russian investment company called Digital Sky Technologies. ICQ connects with Facebook and Google Talk.

Modern “Multi-protocol” Instant Messaging clients

Another type of Instant Messaging clients that is becoming more and more popular is the so called “multi-protocol” instant messaging client. These clients enable you to connect and chat with people who use various different instant messaging clients. Examples of these multi-chat clients include Digsby, Pidgin and Trillian. Nov 6th, Trillian announced that they are soon releasing Trillian for Windows 5.1 which will be “plugged in to Skype”. When you install a multi-protocol client you get to sign in to all of your other accounts and you can get all your instant messages, social updates and other notifications in one place.

Instant Messaging for Business Use

Even though the above clients are targeted for the consumer market, you will still see them being used in various businesses today. This might be one reason why some executives are still against the usage of instant messaging in the workplace.

The major players in the unified communications space in the enterprise section are Microsoft with Microsoft Lync, Cisco with Cisco Personal Communicator and Cisco Jabber, and Avaya with the Avaya one-X Communicator. They all provide instant messaging as part of their larger unified communications offerings. To see more on the various offerings in the workplace seeGartner´s Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications 2011.

Which Instant Messaging Clients do I use?

When it comes to the selection of an instant messaging client, it usually isn’t about functionality, it’s much more important to see how you want to use instant messaging and with whom. Many years ago when I started using instant messaging I used Microsoft’s MSN messenger for personal use. A couple of years ago I started using Skype because it provided much better capabilities for calling people. Since Skype also provides instant messaging capabilities I was able to chat to people over Skype. I don’t have that many people in my Skype contact list, only close family and friends. If I need to get in touch with someone and would like to chat, I’m more likely to find them online on Facebook. The Facebook chat interface is very limited, but since I’m not much of a “chatter” this works fine for me.

From a business perspective, I do a lot of instant messaging. I use Microsoft Lync which is provided as part of Microsoft Office 365. It integrates with our company directory and it integrates nicely with other Microsoft Office applications that I use. In addition to just instant messaging it provides Internet telephony, application sharing and web conferencing which is very useful for meetings and trainings. In 2012 I will post videos on how you can use Microsoft Lync to increase your business productivity.

(If you have difficulties reading this article, you can access the full article in pdf here)