Sending a quick note via a computer’s messenger service is nothing new. Such services have been around for years.
But now, thanks to multi-messenger services that allow free communication across platforms, instant messengers are finding their horizons broadened.
The switch is significant, since existing chat programmes have often restricted communications within that system.
Skype users can only send text messages to other Skype users and so on. The new multi-messengers pack several services into one interface, freeing up communications.
Since they’re free, they’re also proving a popular alternative to mobile phone text messages, especially since some apps allow multi-messengers on smartphones.
”Messenger services usually have one server that receives messages and distributes them. That server operates with a specific protocol,” says Nik Klever, a professor at the computer-science department of Augsburg University of Applied Sciences in Germany.
”Multi-messengers can process multiple protocols,” he said, noting that how well this works depends on the protocols.
Multi-messengers are much more likely to have an easy time with services that use an open source protocol like XMPP.
But others use their own technology – so-called proprietary protocols. In such cases, a multi-messenger might only be able to partially harmonize with a service. Users might be limited to text messages, with no option for picture, video or other data transfers.
Some of the most popular multi-messengers are the free open-source applications Miranda IM and Pidgin.
Both can be expanded with add-ons or plugins for additional services.
Thus, Pidgin might be linked to the gaming networks Blizzard Battlenet or Steam or call up news from Twitter, while Miranda can be outfitted to access Facebook and Skype. Versions are available in multiple languages.
Trillian is not open source, but comes free for iOS and Android smartphones, allowing people to chat while on the road. Other free smartphone options for iOS and Android include Messenger IM+ and imo messenger.
There are also services designed to replace text messages, like WhatsApp or Joyn, which also work like messenger services. They can’t connect with ICQ, Google Talk and the like, but have their benefits.
”The biggest advantage is that, with WhatsApp, I can access my contact list from the phone book and don’t need to get additional information like the ICQ number,” says Tobias Arns, a social media expert with the German technology industry association Bitkom.
Klever says the services are booming because people like the brevity and speed. They outperform text messaging because there is no character limit and it’s free.
There are privacy concerns with the multi-messengers.
”At the very least, the service provider can always read my messages, whenever he wants,” says Urs Mansmann from German computer magazine c’t. ”As a consumer, I have to trust him.”
Nor are the messages always safe when sent from a wi-fi network.
Of course, most chats are small talk that users aren’t worried about.
But Mansmann said truly confidential data should always be encrypted.