An instant mesenger program allows the user to send instant messages to other users of the software in real time, anywhere in the world. The ICQ application was one of the first popular pieces of software, and it was based on a decentralized system: all users had an idea, which operated in much the same way as a phone number. To send instant messages to another user, one had to merely add the other users ICQ number to their contact list, and then would be notified when the other user was online. In this way, it became a common place for people with instant mesenger clients all over the world to communicate with each other freely.
In recent years there has been a proliferation of clients that send instant messages, and they all operate on the same principle. Namely, a decentralized tracking system that gives each user a unique contact name (usually his or her email address) by which they are known on the network. Users add each other to their contact lists and can send instant messages to each other at any time.
One of the most popular clients today is the America online instant messenger. The main reason is that America online is one of the biggest internet providers in the world, and the America online instant messenger comes bundled with their internet service.
Because instant messaging has become ubiquitous in the online world, it has replaced the phone for certain types of communication. Have a quick question for a friend on the other side of the country? Send them some messages when they're online. A change of plans for where your friends are meeting up this evening? Again, some instant messages can resolve the issue often faster and easier then a phone conversation. And as anyone who has worked in front of a computer knows, sending some instant messages and jokes between friends can help pass the time.
It's important to note, however, that not all instant messages are trivial: many businesses allow and encourage the use of a messaging client in the office, which allows employees to ask questions and clarify points with each other quickly, without the need for a disturbing phone call or to trek across the office.
The America online instant messenger client has taken the concept even further, by allowing for voice communication. With a microphone hooked up to his or her pc, a user can have an actual voice conversation with other America online instant messenger users. The most obvious benefit of this is the lack of telephone long distance charges. Just as a web surfer pays nothing to access a website on the other side of the world, America online instant messenger users can communicate overseas free of charge.
It is precisely this phenomenon of voice communication (known as voice over IP, or VOIP) built into instant messages clients that positions instant messaging to have another profound effect over the way we communicate: the elimination of long distance telephone charges, and free communication for users throughout the world. Once again, the internet is right here to change the way we communicate.