UKOLN AHDS Using Instant Messaging Software

About Instant Messaging

Instant messaging (IM) is growing in popularity as the Internet becomes more widely used in a social context. The popularity of IM in a social context is leading to consideration of its potential for work purposes in providing real time communications with colleagues and co-workers.

Popular IM applications include MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and AOL Messenger [1]. In addition to these dedicated applications a number of Web-based services also provide instant messaging facilities within the Web site, such as YahooGroups [2]. The JISCMail list management service also provides a Web-based instant messaging facility [3].

The Benefits

Instant Messaging software can provide several benefits:

Instant messaging fans appreciate the immediacy of communications it provides, which can be particularly valuable when working on small-scale concrete tasks.

Possible Problems

There is a need to be aware of potential problems which can be encountered when using instant messaging software:

Critics of instant messaging argue that, although IM may have a role to play for social purposes, for professional use email should be preferred.

Policies For Effective Use of Instant Messaging

Instant messaging may prove particularly useful when working with remote workers or if you are involved in project work with remote partners. However in order to make effective use of instant messaging tools there is a need to implement a policy governing its usage which addresses the problem areas described above.

You will have to select the IM software. Note you may find that users already have an ID for a particular IM application and may be reluctant to change. There are multi-protocol IM tools available, such as gaim [4] and IM+ [5] although you should be aware that these may have limited functionality. In addition to these desktop applications, there are also Web-based tools such as JWChat [6].
You will need to define how instant messaging is to be used and how it will complement other communications channels, such as email.
Privacy, security, etc issues:
You will need to define a policy on dealing with interruptions, privacy and security issues.
It is important to note that different IM environments (e.g. Jabber and MSN) work in different ways and this can affect privacy issues.
You will need to define a policy on recording instant messaging discussions. Note that a number of IM clients have built-in message archiving capabilities.

As an example of a policy on use of instant messaging software see the policy produced for the QA Focus project [7] together with the QA Focus case study [8]. As an example of use of IM in an online meeting see the transcript and the accompanying guidelines at [9].


  1. Instant Messenger FAQs, University of Liverpool,
  2. YahooGroups,
  3. DISCUSS Discussion Room at JISCMail, JISCMail,
  4. GAIM,
  5. IM+, Shape Services,
  6. Jabber Web Chat, JWChat,
  7. Policy on Instant Messaging, QA Focus, UKOLN,
  8. Implementing A Communications Infrastructure, QA Focus, UKOLN,
  9. Approaches To Web Development: Online Discussion, Web Focus, UKOLN,