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What is Instant Messaging?

A Beginner's Guide to IM Clients, How They Work and More


Instant messaging (abbreviated as IM) is a real-time communications medium which allows two people to converse with each other by sending rapid, text-based messages between their client software and their computers or mobile devices.

While IM most commonly refers to the text sent to another user via keyboard, a number of people may refer to the sending of video, audio, images and other multimedia as an instant message, as IM clients regularly support these features.

How Does IM Work?

A complex series of servers, software, protocols and packets are necessary to take the instant message you just wrote and deliver it to your IM contact with lighting-quick speed.

Read the full article, How Instant Messaging Works, for an illustrated walk through of your IM client.

How Do I Start Instant Messaging?

In order to chat with family, friends and other contacts, you must first consider which IM client you will use to communicate with and sign up for your own screen name and password.

There are six different types of IM clients, each addressing a specific need or community of users. Research the most popular IM clients first, since these networks make up the basis of instant messaging, then you can consider choosing more complex applications.

Is Instant Messaging Safe?

While the Internet can be a very big, scary place for some, with the right guidance, knowledge and preparation, you can ensure your experience is safe, whether you are chatting with friends, file sharing, checking email or updating your social networks from your IM client.

When Was Instant Messaging Invented?

The first IM clients were developed in the 1970s and allowed users to send text-based messages to computers linked on the same computer network, typically within the same building. Today, users can also participate in webcam and audio chat, share photos and files, compete in two-player computer games and more.

How Should I Talk While Instant Messaging?

Despite what you might read or hear in the media, a lot of people actually type full sentences, practicing good grammar and punctuation in their instant messages. Others, however, have adopted an Internet shorthand, sometimes called netspeak. There is no right or wrong way to speak on IM, so do what feels comfortable and natural.

Understanding IM Terminology

Whether you are struggling to understand what an away message is or how plug-ins will benefit your experience as an IM user, our directory of IM terms will help you on your way to becoming a veteran IMer.

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