Instant Messaging

Instant messaging (IM) is the act of instantly communicating between two or more people over a network such as the Internet.  IM increases communication and collaboration by providing instant, non-intrusive communication between multiple parties. IM use has gained popularity because it offers several advantages over email.  With IM, users know if the person they are communicating with is online at that moment or not. Also, as compared to email communication, IM eliminates many steps when sending and receiving messages. 


More than 102 million people use instant messaging technology to communicate on a daily basis.  For municipal government, it is essential to align services with communication technologies that suit our customer’s needs and allow our staff to use their time as efficiently and productively as possible.



Live Help at at

Virginia's "Live Help" service debuted in August 2001. Visitors select the “Live Help” icon to begin a live, online chat with a customer service representative. Live Help provide portal visitors the information or service they seek in real time. Representatives also can use push technology to point users' web browsers directly to the desired web site.

Instant messaging inside the organization

Instant messaging can be very powerful inside an organization as well as it is the written equivalent of a phone call. It’s great for simple questions and when you need specifics such as spelling or internet links. Most systems also allow the use of file transfer to share documents.

A lot of organizations are against internal IM because they think of IM as a social activity but it can be very productive.  Paul Chin has an article on that here .  

When you want to implement your IM strategy you need to consider a few things first, what and who. The “what” is about the tools. There are a lot of options out there for IM and I have chosen to highlight a few of them.

Existing services (skype, google talk , AOL and MSN):

These are great to get up and going fast, there are no servers for you to worry about and the software is freely available and updated but there are a few problems from a government standpoint.   Many even have great group and voice communication. Skype is now responsible for a large percent of all international voice communication.

·         Everything you say is sent to a remote server, a determined hacker could read these conversations or the third party company could be listening in. The third party company is not listening in, but they could and if you are not in the USA you could be sending your information across international lines where the other governments can listen in.

·         You have no control of who the employees talk to. Using MSN an employee can talk to their boss as easily as they can talk to their kids.  It isn’t the responsibility of the tools to make sure the employee is doing their job but it helps to separate the two with different tools.

Microsoft Communications Server :

Is a full featured communication solution that integrates into existing windows based networks; it includes all the bells and whistles at a cost.  If you really need everything it offers then it’s likely worth hacking someone responsible for it much in the same way they are responsible for the exchange server.


·         It’s a Microsoft product with Microsoft support. Your likely to already use their products in your organization and have employees that are familiar with the their software works.

·         It’s very feature rich for windows PC’s with video  and voice and integration with outlook.


·         It’s not been fully released yet.

·         There is a cost involved, both in purchase and setup and configuration.


XMPP (jabber)

Most of you have probably never heard of XMPP, formerly known as jabber but it is an open standard for IM. This means that anyone can run a server, internally and behind a firewall, and they have full control of who can talk to whom.  

Free products like openfire allow you to host your own XMPP server and allow you to log all of the conversations and also ties into active directory (although I was unable to get this working on my test of the software).  

Because XMPP is an open protocol you are not restricted to one platform. Where options like AOL and Microsoft communicator require a supported platform, such as a windows desktop an XMPP client is available for every platform you can think of including ,blackberry , iphone,  web, twitter,  or even built into firefox.


·         It’s free, even if one piece of software starts charging you can swap it out for something else, you are never locked in.

·         It can do more than IM, Google uses it for the base of the Google wave.

·         It is internal and can be logged , monitored and controlled.

·         It’s available for mobile platforms, so mobile workers can use it.


·         Depending on what software you use it may lack features such as voice and video.  But google chat use it and they have voice and video support in their custom client. Other clients will likely support this, soon.

·         Depending on what software you use there may be no official support.  Most of the time there is a large amount of community support.