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Instant Messaging

Page history last edited by Kate M. Fisher 12 years, 6 months ago


      Instant messaging (IM) is a form of communication that allows for an exchange of thoughts and information between one or more parties almost instantaneously through a typed message sent via the Internet. Instant messaging is a new form of computer-mediated communication that has gained popularity both in the workplace at in the home. There are numerous instant messaging platforms.  A few examples include, Microsoft Windows Messenger, AOL's Instant Messenger, etc. All these messaging forms share the same key elements of providing immediate communication initiated by one or more parties, providing notifications of incoming communications by way of audio alerts or pop-up windows, and by allowing users the ability to identify the availability of other users within their same network. [6] Instant messaging allows users to ability to manage who, when, and where they communicate with another individual. [7] One of the greatest benefits of using an IM-system, is the fact that numerous users can send and receive messages from one another at the same time. [1] 


      In 1961, The Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS) was developed at MIT, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The system was far from perfected at its earlier development, but it allowed for multiple users to communicate through the same terminal with one another successfully. The message sender would write a message and save it to a common file on the terminal, and when the recipient would log-on to the same terminal at a later time, they would be able to look for the file and print out the sent message. Noel Morris and Tom Van Vleck further enhanced the development of instant messaging in 1965, by writing an application to the CTSS entitled, ". SAVED (dot saved)".  This new application allowed for users to send messages to other logged on users without interfering with other running programs. [4]


     In 1985, an online service called Quantum Link (Q-link) went public. This service was designed to support the "best selling personal computer, the Commodore 64." The Commodore was a computer that had color graphics and vivid music and sound capabilities. This system was in operation years prior to the interface of Microsoft. The Commodore was affordable and allowed for people to be in contact through the online service, Q-link.  In the early 1990's, the Vice President Quantum Link, Steve Case, gained control and bought the online service from the original creators. Shortly after this purchase, Steve Case changed Quantum Link's name to America Online. America Online allowed for Q-link users to merge their existing accounts, but many loyal users to Q-link refused. On November 1, 1994, Q-link was deemed to be an extinct entity. Al Evans was a dedicated Q-link user and customer. Below, Al has disclosed information about the events leading up to the disappearance of Q-link:


“The end was almost anticlimactic, one minute we were all chatting, nervously eyeing our watches, waiting for the moment we knew was only seconds away. Then the screen seemed to draw into itself a bit, and poof Q-link was gone forever.” [5]


       In the mid 1990's, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) was created. Other companies, such as Excite, Yahoo, and MSN were creating and running applications similar to AIM at this same time. As the development of online technology increases, so does the need for greater instant messaging applications. Currently instant messaging programs have launched applications for web conferencing, voice over, as well as video conferencing. [8]

Mobile Instant Messaging



      Instant messaging that is available through cellular phones and other mobile devices uses the Short Message System (SMS). SMS allows for short text messages to be transmitted wirelessly to another mobile device within seconds. Other devices, such as cellular phones and PDA's, use other transmission devices including the recent developed Bluetooth to transmit messages wirelessly. [8] Some critics such as Louis Menard have a hard time understanding the rationale behind texting. Menard states "with Morse code, to make an "s" you needed only three key presses. Sending a text message with a numeric keypad feels primitive and improvisational." In Menards article, "Is Texting Here to Stay," he explores the ideas held by David Crystal on text messaging. Crystal believed that if changes in language occur naturally, then there will not be any long term damage. He went on to state, "Texting is not corrupting the language; people who send text messages that use emoticons, initialisms ("g2g." "lol"), and other short hands generally know how to spell perfectly well; and the history of language is filled with analogous examples of nonstandard usage." [9] Crystal explains that the use of shorthand texting alterations in language, began long before advancements in communication technology occurred. Crystal adds, "People began playing with language in this way long before mobile phones were invented," and "Texting may be using a new technology, but its linguistic processes are centuries old." [9]


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 This You-tube clip is from the Jay Leno show when he had the the worlds fastest text messenger on the show, who was able to complete a 160 character message in 57 seconds with the use of a cellular phone. The Jay Leno show actually tested how fast they really were by having professional Morse code operators compete in transmitting messages. Guess who won the competition? 

Business Instant Messaging

      Business IM surfaced in the late 1990's. IM was impacting telephone usage profoundly during this time period. Telephone tag, frequent conversations, and face-to-face meetings, begun to be replaced by short messages. This allowed for immediate responses to be generated, that could be received and that did not require a person to stop working to answer the given message. [2] There has been concern amongst employers that the use of instant messaging could create interruption within the workplace environment. In a study conducted by Ohio State University and the University of California at Irvine, employees found that instant messaging decreased the amount of interruption during work hours as compared with their counterparts. Instant messaging began to substitute forms of communication that were deemed to be disruptive, such as the telephone, e-mail and face-to-face interactions. [7]


     The emergence of instant messaging in the workplace had the primary goal of decreasing interruption.  Interruption throughout the day consisted of person-to-person conversations and telephone calls, with telephone calls being the most common form of interruption. Communication between coworkers can easily be performed through instant messaging. Instant messaging allows for the sender to test the availability of the recipient by sending a message. The recipient may ignore the notification or provide an explanation of current status, such as, "I am busy right now and will talk in 10 minutes." Instant messaging in the workplace allows for the recipient to flag their availability and to respond immediately to messages. Over all, "IM provides a means of obtaining task relevant information rapidly and with minimal disruption, thus allowing for workers to ask clarifying questions without the expectation of engaging in a long conversation," as stated by Garrett. [6]

Language Development and Effects on Education

      Text messaging and the use of new modern communication technologies, such as the Internet, have been presumed to have an effect on the development of language. In an article written by Sam Dillon, a recruitment director at Applera, Dillon states, "The more electronic and global we get, the less important the spoken word has become, and in e-mail, clarity is critical." [12] Even highly educated individuals, working for prestige companies, have difficulties writing clearly in there every day workplace.


     Students have also been hallmark at using short cuts in their writing, by using improper punctuation, capitalization and characters. Many teachers have found that short cut writing is finding its way into student's papers, due to the fact that students aren't sure what the classification of formal writing and non-formal writing entails. [13] According to an article by Jennifer Lee, "Some teachers see the creeping abbreviations as part of a continuing assault of technology on formal written English. Others take it more lightly, saying that it is just part of the larger arc of language evolution." [13]


     The changes that have been seen within students writing is important to rationalize, and as the editor of the Oxford dictionary states, "There is no official English language," and "Language is spread not because anyone dictates any one thing to happen. The decisions are made by the language and the people who use the language." [13] The increased usage of text messaging and instant messaging has been linked to students using poor grammar, punctuation and incorrect abbreviations in written assignments. Many educators have used the development of text messaging to teach students about the changes in language over time. [14]

      The use of text language has its time and place, but should be removed from work and school. The You-tube clip below describes how high school football players are receiving text messages during class from possible college recruits. This is seen as inappropriate by many coaches, and takes the students attention away from learning. [11]


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Implications for Media Ecology

      Instant messaging has transformed our over growing society by expanding our communication resources.  It is important as a consumer to realize that there are positive and negative effects of certain technological advancements. It has been outlined that we may and may not be affected by the transformation from oral communication to thriving on electronic communication.  This is exactly what was suggested with the emergence of the television and the implication that the television was going to bring the family closer together.  As other communication technologies were developed the very same issues regarding the effects on society were mentioned.   As the communication world continues to expand by the use of many new forms of technology it is important to recognize the effect it will have on yourself and society.  The effects on society can be that we will no longer have the necessary basis of language and sentence structure to write a critical report or even a letter to our mothers because of the increased usage of instant messaging short hands and devices.




[1] Lenardon, John. Protect Your Child on the Internet. Canada: Self-Counsel Press, 2006.

[2] Dvorak, John C. & Pirillo. Online! The book. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2004.

[3] Buckley & Clark Duncan. The Internet. New York: Rough Guides, 2006.

[4] Van Vleck, Tom. "The History of Electronic Mail. 18 November 2008. http://www.multicians.org/thvv/mail-history.html

[5] Evans, Al. "Remember Q-Link" 18 November 2008. http://www.qlinklives.org/qlink-new/html/remember_q-link.html  

[6] Garrett, R.K., & Danziger, J. N. (2007) " IM=interruption managment? Instant messaging and disruption in the workplace". Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13 (1), article 2. Retrieved 2 December 2008. http://jcmc.indianca.edu/vol13/issue1/garrett.html

[7] "Instant Messaging Proves Useful in Reducing Workplace Interruption" Retrived 2 December 2008. http://newswise.com/p/articles/541403

[8] "Text Messaging" Retrieved 3 December 2008. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Text_messaging

[9] Menard, Louis (2008). Thumbspeak "Is texting here to stay" Retrieved 3 December 2008. http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2008/10/20/081020crbo_books_menand

[10] "Text Message Vs Morse Code." Retrieved 6 December 2008. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhsSgcsTMd4.

[11] "Has Text Messaging Gone to Far". Retrieved 6 December 2008. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_yFBrNz_tw

[12] Dillon, Sam (2004). "What Corporate America Can't Build" A Sentence". Retrieved 6 December 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/07/business/07write.html?scp=1&sq=what%20corporate%20america%20can't%20build:%20a%20sentence&st=cse

[13] Lee, Jennifer (2002). "I Think, Therefore IM" Retrieved on 7 December 2008. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F06E5D71230F93AA2575AC0A9649C8B63&scp=1&sq=I%20think%20therefore%20I%20IM&st=cse

[14] O'Connor, Amanda. (2005). "Instant Messaging: Friend or Foe of Student Writing?" Retrieved 6 December 2008. http://www.newhorizons.org/strategies/literacy/oconnor.htm


Original Author:  Jennifer Crowe & Jackie Lovik

Additional Writing and Editing: Kate M. Fisher



Comments (6)

Kate M. Fisher said

at 4:58 pm on Sep 14, 2008

This is a very well-informed article. Some areas of possible improvement could be adding more to the history section on how "IM" truly came into place, what precipitated the move to this type of messanging service, etc. I also think that security issues would be a great add-in to this article; talking more about hackers and what ramifications can occur from exposing too much of yourself in chat rooms, etc.

Jeff Martinek said

at 5:51 pm on Oct 18, 2008

Thumbspeak: Is Texting Here to Stay? article in the New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2008/10/20/081020crbo_books_menand

Jeff Martinek said

at 1:02 pm on Nov 24, 2008

Jackie: The elements of this entry (from the previous author) that address specific advice to readers seems inappropriate for an encyclopedia-type article. The tone should be more formal and objective. The goal should be to convey information about the technology, not provide tips on usage.


Jeff Martinek said

at 4:39 pm on Dec 9, 2008


Good work on this article. You done a great deal to improve it. Please put the bracked reference numbers before the concluding period of the sentence (as in my General Semantics article).


Jeff Martinek said

at 4:30 pm on Dec 11, 2008


Here's a brief piece on a new instant-messaging term, "sexting":


Jeff Martinek said

at 4:40 pm on Dec 11, 2008

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