Sunday, May 18, 2008

Instant messaging: The evolution

Once upon a time, back in the days when instant messaging was an incipient concept (i.e., in the mid 1990's), an Israeli company named Mirabilis launched a product to the internet. It's name was ICQ (which didn't stand for anything at all; the choice of those three letters was only to represent the sentence I-seek-you), and it became the most popular instant messaging tool in the web for many years. ICQ was a key factor that attracted people to instant messaging, to the extent that a great amount of users signed up for the service and they spent a fair amount of their time (free or otherwise) chatting. But the times when ICQ was the standard of instant messaging came to an end when Mirabilis got purchased by AOL, which also ran its own instant messaging service (AIM) that exists until today.

By the time when AOL ran simultaneously ICQ and AIM, instant messaging was already popular enough to be considered a business with a promising growth potential. But AIM was not the competitor that brought ICQ down from its throne as the king of the instant messaging services. It was not even Yahoo, which became a company known for its innovation and the reliability of its services. It was Microsoft's Windows Messenger. Microsoft found an excellent opportunity to gain a considerable market share of the instant messaging industry by including its messaging program on their Windows operating system. They were successful in becoming the standard for instant messaging.

It looks that the industry is taking a new twist again. As I have been having more spare time than usual lately, I have also had more time to surf the internet and explore what new tools are there available to allow users to keep in touch with their friends and contacts. My surprise was immense when I logged into my Facebook and I noticed a small green dot in the bottom right corner of the screen. Yes, it is true: That dot was Facebook's new chat system!

Well, the idea of adding an instant messaging tool to Facebook is very good, due to the high volume and the profile of users subscribed to such service. Even though their instant messaging service's interface is still rather rudimentary, it looks that the service has been welcomed by users and they're utilizing the service the same way they use Microsoft's Windows Messenger.

There are two big questions that come to my mind at this point:

  1. If we consider that employees (especially teenagers often doing entry level, retail positions) were already spending a considerable time in their jobs to surf through Facebook, will the addition of this feature have an impact in their overall performance, and hence in their employers' businesses?
  2. Will Facebook's instant messaging take a chunk of Windows Messenger's (and the other well-established) instant messaging services market share? Or will it rather be a complementary service to it?
The answers to these questions will definitely be reflected in the long term. For now, all we can say is that these types of service through the web keep evolving and flourishing.


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