Online Chat Messaging Overview

Instant or online messaging is text-based communication between two or more people. Communication takes place over the internet or another type of network. Unlike email, instant messaging typically involves shorter messages and is designed for dialogue in real-time. The technology has made it easier for individuals to communicate, especially with the growing popularity of web-enabled devices such as smartphones and tablet computers.

How it Works

Online messaging or instant messaging is a form of chat that involves real-time text sent over the internet. Messages are typically sent between two people, although they can also be sent between groups of people.

It works by typing a message and selecting 'send' on an instant messaging platform such as an online application or software using a mobile device such as a phone or tablet or a personal computer. Basic and older online messaging applications use push technology that provides real-time text with messages displaying character by character as they are typed.

Advanced applications are instant and can include a wide range of additional features, such as Voice over IP (VoIP), video, photos, emoji or emoticons, file transfer and clickable hyperlinks. Messages are typically sent when the sender and recipient is online, although some applications allow users to send messages to offline users.

History of Online Messaging

The origins of online or instant messaging dates back to the 1960s with the development of multi-user operating systems, such as the Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS) and the Multiplexed Information and Computing Service (Multics). These and some similar systems incorporated notification systems for various tasks such as printing. Over time, they were used for communication. Some multi-user operating systems used peer-to-peer protocols, such as talk, ntalk or ytalk. Others allowed users to connect via a server using Internet Relay Chat (IRC) or talker programmes. One of the first dedicated online messaging systems was the Zephyr Notification System, which was developed by Project Athena at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States. Created in the 1980s, this system let service providers locate and send messages to their users.

As instant messaging developed, so did online chat systems. Early examples involved Talkomatic in the 1970s. With the growth of bulletin board systems (BBS) in the 1970s, some systems included chat features very similar to instant messaging. However, many of these systems were restricted to specific users. The very first online messaging service that was available to a broad audience was CompuServe's CB Simulator in 1980. Early programmes displayed characters as they were types. In the early 1990s, user-to-user messaging was included in Quantum Link's online service for Commodore 64 computers. Quantum Link eventually evolved into America Online and developed AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), one of the most popular online messaging programmes. Quantum Link created a primitive graphical user interface (GUI), which is now used widely for messaging programmes. During the 1990s, a number of online messaging services were launched by Yahoo!, MSN, Excite and others.

The growth of social networking in the 2000s and 2010s has often included online messaging capability, including Facebook. Other examples include direct messaging features on Twitter and Instagram, as well as messaging elements on dating websites such as eHarmony, OKCupid, Lavalife and many others. Many social networks are now becoming the most popular homes for online messaging, replacing products that were specifically developed for instant messaging such as MSN Messenger and AIM as the go-to service for online messaging. Some instant messaging services also offer voice and video calling features, as well as web conferencing.

Types of Online Messaging Services

Online messaging clients have been developed as server-, browser- or software-based applications. Generally, programmes are either Enterprise Instant Messaging (EIM) or Consumer Instant Messaging (CIM). EIM programmes use an internal instant messaging server, which can be costly. CIM solutions are inexpensive and do not require hardware or server software. These are generally available as downloadable software applications for mobile devices or personal computers, or browser-based systems. Popular online messaging products include AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live and MSN messenger, iMessage from Apple, BlackBerry Messenger, eBuddy, XMPP, IBM Sametime, QQ, Facebook and Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, Google+, Skype, and Twitter.

According to Statista, the most popular messenger app as of August 2015 was WhatsApp. The Chinese messaging service boasts an estimated 800 million active users. This compares with approximately 700 monthly active users worldwide that communicate with Facebook Messenger, the second most popular online messaging service. The other top applications are QQ Mobile (603 million monthly active users), WeChat (600 million), Skype (300 million), Viber (249 million), LINE (211 million), Kik (200 million), Blackberry Messenger (91 million), and KakaoTalk (48 million). Online messaging is also hugely popular in the UK, and the Office for National Statistics estimates that the UK has the second highest proportion of social networkers in the EU. Social networking includes online chatting and instant messaging, as well as accessing social networking sites, blogs, discussion forums and newsgroups. More than 30 million people in the UK access the Internet on a daily basis and almost half of all adults use social networking sites. Although how we message online is evolving, it is unlikely that its popularly will wane in the coming years.

Add On Services and Products

The popularity of online and mobile messaging has been the catalyst for a multitude of affiliated products and services.