Instant Messaging

Most of the popular IM products are at least adequate for virtual teams. The best product is the one that will actually get installed and used by everyone in the team. Therefore, take a poll to see what product people are using most, and then ask the others to get on board.

Many of the IM networks and clients used today are incompatible. As a result, in order to communicate with colleagues and friends on different networks, people must install more than one client. As one extreme example, we found as many as seven IM clients installed on one colleague’s computer. The average was about three per desktop. Typically these were Yahoo, MSN, and AOL, in addition to the in-house Jabber-based business platform. For a pretty comprehensive list of IM clients and protocols, check out the Wikipedia entry on Instant Messaging.

The primary IM features we found useful for virtual teams were:

  • Availability&#8212Basic information on the availability of your various buddies. These include: Online, Offline and Away (not typed for a while), etc.
  • Typing a reply&#8212A real-time indication that the other person in an IM conversation is typing a reply (This is very important).
  • DND&#8212Ability to set your status to Offline when you don’t want to be
    disturbed.
  • Camping&#8212Notification when a selected buddy returns from being Away or Offline (inactive).
  • Virtual meeting launch&#8212Right click on a buddy to initiate or join an existing online virtual meeting session in such tools as NetMeeting, WebEx, etc..
  • Multi-network client&#8212For those situations where a single network for an entire team is not possible, having a single client that can interface with more than one network (e.g., Yahoo, MSN, AIM, AOL, etc.) is efficient and saves having to install multiple clients.

Be Aware

Most IM platforms are not secure. All communications are sent in clear text from end-to-end. Therefore, if you use one of the consumer-grade IM solutions such as MSN or Yahoo, caution your team members to send only information they would not mind the entire world to know. This is very hard to control, however, because most people don’t think about the sensitivity of their communications before they hit ‘send’. Therefore, for most internal corporate communications it is better to purchase an enterprise solution that keeps the traffic inside the company firewall, or at least encrypts the data streams.

2 Responses to Instant Messaging

  1. Justin Chen says:

    I’m guessing Google Talk falls into the Jabber category?

  2. admin says:

    Yes, according to the Google Labs pages, they use the Jabber/XMPP protocol.

    Things have been changing rapidly since this article was written, as nearly everything does in cyber-space. There are many more providers and clients, and more companies are integrating IM into their other offerings (i.e, Skype), making things even more complex. And, there are even tools such as Twitter that are a kind of one to many IM. It will be interesting to see in a few years if things consolidate to a few major players or not and what new IM-ish technologies emerge.

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