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Mobile Instant Messaging

Mobile Instant Messaging (MIM) is a presence enabled messaging service that aims to transpose the desktop messaging experience to the usage scenario of being on the move. While several of the core ideas of the desktop experience on one hand apply to a connected mobile device, others do not: Users usually only look at their phone's screen — presence status changes might occur under different circumstances as happens at the desktop, and several functional limits exist based on the fact that the vast majority of mobile communication devices are chosen by their users to fit into the palm of their hand.

Some of the form factor and mobility related differences need to be taken into account in order to create a really adequate, powerful and yet convenient mobile experience: radio bandwidth, memory size, availability of media formats, keypad based input, screen output, CPU performance and battery power are core issues that desktop device users and even nomadic users with connected notebooks are usually not exposed to.

Several formerly untackled issues have been identified and addressed within IMPS, which was developed as part of an early mobile telephone industry initiative to kick off a broader usage of mobile instant messaging. The Open Mobile Alliance has taken over this standard, formerly called Wireless Village, as IMPS V1.0 in November 2002. Since then this standards has been further developed to IMPS V1.3, the latest candidate for release, and is expected to be released before the end of 2006.

There are downloadable mobile applications offered by different independent developers that allow users to chat within public (MSN, Yahoo!, Google Talk, AIM, ICQ) and corporate (IBM Lotus Sametime, LCS, Reuters) IM services from mobile devices.

Among the advantages of using such IM clients over SMS are: IM clients use data instead of SMS text messages; IM-like chat mode, faster and quicker messaging. Some IM software allows group communication.

Several large scale mobile telephone industry companies are planning to jointly deliver a ubiquitous, interoperable presence enabled messaging service, built according to interoperability recommendations developed in the GSM Association. Considering these organisations are jointly representing approximately 1.5 billion active Short Text Messaging (SMS) users, it remains to be seen if such an initiative may also help to drive the different industry factions to agree on a truly interoperable approach at least for Mobile Instant Messaging sometime in the not too far future.

In the meantime, other developments have proposed usage of downloadable applications with the intention to create their own approach to IM that runs on most mobile phones worldwide. Essentially, several of these clients are Java applications are instantly downloaded and then connected to back-end servers through GPRS/3G Internet Channels. Some of the implementations can connect to other IM services.

Friend-to-friend networks

Instant Messaging may be done in a Friend-to-friend network, in which each node connects to the friends on the friendslist. This allows for communication with friends of friends and for the building of chatrooms for instant messages with all friends on that network.

Emotions are often expressed in shorthand. For example; lol. But a movement is currently underway to be more accurate with the emotional expression. Real time reactions such as (chortle) (snort) (guhfaw) or (eye-roll) are rapidly taking the place of acronyms.

Business application

Instant messaging has proven to be similar to personal computers, e-mail, and the WWW, in that its adoption for use as a business communications medium was driven primarily by individual employees using consumer software at work, rather than by formal mandate or provisioning by corporate information technology departments. Tens of millions of the consumer IM accounts in use are being used for business purposes by employees of companies and other organizations.

In response to the demand for business-grade IM and the need to ensure security and legal compliance, a new type of instant messaging, called "Enterprise Instant Messaging" ("EIM") was created when Lotus Software launched IBM Lotus Sametime in 1998. Microsoft followed suit shortly thereafter with Microsoft Exchange Instant Messaging, later created a new platform called Microsoft Office Live Communications Server, and released Office Communications Server 2007 in October 2007. Both IBM Lotus and Microsoft have introduced federation between their EIM systems and some of the public IM networks so that employees may use a single interface to both their internal EIM system and their contacts on AOL, MSN, and Yahoo!. Current leading EIM platforms include IBM Lotus Sametime, Microsoft Office Communications Server, and Jabber XCP. In addition, industry-focused EIM platforms such as IMtrader from Pivot Incorporated, Reuters Messaging, and Bloomberg Messaging provide enhanced IM capabilities to financial services companies.

The adoption of IM across corporate networks outside of the control of IT organizations creates risks and liabilities for companies who do not effectively manage and support IM use. Companies implement specialized IM archiving and security products and services like those from Secure Computing, Akonix, Surfcontrol, and ScanSafe to mitigate these risks and provide safe, secure, productive instant messaging capabilities to their employees.

Risks and liabilities

Although instant messaging delivers many benefits, it also carries with it certain risks and liabilities, particularly when used in workplaces. Among these risks and liabilities are:

  • Security risks (e.g. IM used to infect computers with spyware, viruses, trojans, worms)

  • Compliance risks

  • Inappropriate use

  • Intellectual property leakage

Crackers' (malicious "hacker" or black hat hacker) use of instant messaging networks to deliver malicious code has grown consistently from 2004 to the present, with the number of discrete attacks listed by the IM Security Center[6] having grown 15% from 347 attacks in 2005 to 406 in 2006. Hackers use two methods of delivering malicious code through IM: delivery of virus, trojan, or spyware within an infected file, and the use of "socially engineered" text with a web address that entices the recipient to click on a URL that connects him or her to a website that then downloads malicious code. Viruses, worms, and trojans typically propagate by sending themselves rapidly through the infected user's buddy list. An effective attack using a "poison URL" may reach tens of thousands of people in minutes when each person's buddy list receives messages appearing to be from a trusted friend. The recipients click on the web address, and the entire cycle starts again. Infections may range from nuisance to criminal, and are becoming more sophisticated each year.

In addition to the malicious code threat, the use of instant messaging at work also creates a risk of non-compliance to laws and regulations governing the use of electronic communications in businesses. In the United States alone there are over 10,000 laws and regulations related to electronic messaging and records retention.[7] The more well-known of these include the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, HIPAA, and SEC 17a-3. Recent changes to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, effective December 1, 2006, create a new category for electronic records which may be requested during discovery (law) in legal proceedings. Most countries around the world also regulate the use of electronic messaging and electronic records retention in similar fashion to the United States. The most common regulations related to IM at work involve the need to produce archived business communications to satisfy government or judicial requests under law. Many instant messaging communications fall into the category of business communications that must be archived and retrievable.

Organizations of all types must protect themselves from the liability of their employees' inappropriate use of IM. The informal, immediate, and ostensibly anonymous nature of instant messaging makes it a candidate for abuse in the workplace. The topic of inappropriate IM use became front page news in October 2006 when Congressman Mark Foley resigned his seat after admitting sending offensive instant messages of a sexual nature to underage former House pages from his Congressional office PC. The Mark Foley Scandal led to media coverage and mainstream newspaper articles warning of the risks of inappropriate IM use in workplaces. In most countries, corporations have a legal responsibility to ensure harassment-free work environment for employees. The use of corporate-owned computers, networks, and software to harass an individual or spread inappropriate jokes or language creates a liability for not only the offender but also the employer. A survey by IM archiving and security provider Akonix Systems, Inc. in March 2007 showed that 31% of respondents had been harassed over IM at work.[8] Companies now include instant messaging as an integral component of their policies on appropriate use of the World Wide Web, email, and other corporate assets.

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