Instant messaging

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Instant messaging, or IM, is a popular and now ubiquitous medium for sending messages to other persons on the Internet.

General overview

Instant messaging is a technology through which a person can send short text messages to others on the same computer or over a computer network. The recipients receive the message instantly and can send a reply right away or at a more convenient time. IM is therefore a powerful middle ground between email and real-time chat systems.

With most IM networks, users connect to a centralized IM server with an instant-messaging client. They sign in with a login id and a password, and the network sends the online status of everyone on the user's contact list and alerts others of the user's online status. Once connected, the user may send messages to others on the same IM network via the centralized server.

There are several major IM networks in use today: AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Google HangOuts, ICQ, Jabber, Skype, Yahoo! Messenger

Most IM networks are incompatible with others. Although AIM and ICQ users can see each others' status and send messages to each other, interoperability is otherwise non-existent. Proprietary networks have a vested interest in keeping their networks closed. This led to the rise of multi-network clients, such as Pidgin and Trillian. These clients allow users to connect to more than one IM network at once instead of running each official client separately. A user must still register with and sign in to each individual IM network, but can message his friends on various networks using a common interface, which may or may not have more features (such as spell checking) than the official clients.

Many IM clients and networks also presently include more advanced functions, like graphical emoticons integrated in the text, offline messages that are held by the server until the recipient signs in, file transfers, and video and voice chat.

Instant messaging in the boylove community

Especially after the decline of IRC in the community, instant messaging has been a popular way for boylovers to keep in touch with one another. IM chats take on the character of casual, private conversations. IMs can be a comfortable way to share personal details and form friendships outside of public forums like Internet message boards. Many networks allow group chats where more than two people can talk together at the same time.

Security

Most IM networks use chat servers to store contact lists and relay IMs, which are sent in plain text. This means that the owners of the IM networks know who is talking to whom, and what is said. Certain networks (such as AIM) allow a user to directly connect to another user, bypassing the central servers, but this reveals the users' IP addresses to one another. Some third-party clients offer client-to-client encryption, meaning the server owners will no longer be able to read the messages exchanged. Users should still consider that their IM clients can theoretically be compromised, for example by a virus, into revealing the user's IP address and other sensitive data. All the usual precautions regarding safety and anonymity (running an up-to-date system, antivirus and so on) should be considered.

External links

IM network:

IM software:

  • Pidgin - Open Source IM client for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and BSD which supports the above IM networks plus others.
  • Trillian - Windows IM client that supports AIM, Yahoo!, ICQ, MSN and IRC.
  • IM Scorecard - IM security scorecard elaborated by the Electronic Frontiers Foundation

Smartphone IM:

  • SureSpot - Open source wiretap resistant encrypted messenger for mobile phone, encryption keys never leave your phone.