Instant messaging (IM) or 'chat' is a way for individuals to instantly communicate through the web. Using a website or computer-based software (a 'client'), you can quickly connect with another friend who's also online and have a real-time conversation through short messages. Faster and less cluttering than email, less distracting than a phone call, IM is a great way to quickly share and confirm information...or to coordinate dinner plans with a friend.
As more of their patrons work and live online, libraries are discovering that IM reference is a powerful use of technology, and the list of libraries using this tool is growing. For example, the Massachusetts Law Libraries offer a variety of IM connections with their reference service.
There are many different programs you can use to chat. With your Google account, you have access to two: Google Talk (a separate downloadable IM client), and a chat window right inside GMail. Look for the Chat section on the left side of your screen:
Other popular IM services include AIM (from AOL), Yahoo Messenger and MSN Web Messenger. Facebook and Myspace both have IM functions as well. Many companies have an "official" chat service for work-based discussions. Typically, users will either go with whatever chat service is attached to their primary email account, or they'll choose the service that most of their friends use.
A newer option is to have accounts with all of those IM clients and use a tool like Meebo, Pidgin, Adium (for Mac OSX) or Trillian to work in all of them at the same time. One login and you're good to go!
Here's a comparison of 12 different IM services and the Open Directory Project entry for Instant Messaging clients for some more examples.
At some point this week, head on over to my professional blog and see if I'm online. You'll see a Google Talk gadget over on the right side of the screen. If the button is green and says that I'm online, say Hi! (MeeboMe is another service that lets you embed a chat box on your blog.)
If this is difficult due to time or technology constraints, try contacting the Massachusetts Law Libraries or one of the other libraries using IM reference and interact with them. Ask them a reference question that's stumping you, or feel free to let them know that you're working through a class on 2.0 tools. Post about your experience in your blog.
We're coming into the home stretch, folks. Next week, we'll return to exploring online media, starting with Thing 21: E-Book 2.0, or, What the Kindle Hath Wrought. Don't turn that page....