TECH TALK: Disruptive Technologies: IM and SMS

The popularity of Instant Messaging (IM) and Short Message Service (SMS) fulfill our most basic need – communications. They are both the unexpected “killer apps” on the Internet and on GSM Cellphones, respectively. Both have been adopted by teenagers in large numbers, and are only now moving into the enterprise.

IM technology consist of two parts – Presence and Buddy Lists. Presence indicates online/offline status, and availability. Buddy Lists allow users to control who can communicate with them. IM has taken off in popularity because unlike email, its instantaneous. It is just like having a conversation. It also allows multi-tasking, since one could do doing various things on the computer between sending IM messages. IM helps bridge people together in real-time. Writes Mark Chediak in Red Herring on Instant Messaging:

IM applications let users exchange text messages and files in real time over the Internet. They have gained popularity because they’re often quicker and easier to use than email or the phone. International Data Corporation, a research firm, predicts the number of global corporate IM users will increase more than tenfold over the next three years, from 18.4 million this year to 229.2 million in 2005. And the amount companies pay for IM is expected to grow from $133 million this year to $1.1 billion by 2005.

Presence technology is what has the potential to make IM disruptive. Presence allows us to find and contact people in real-time. Email goes into a mailbox, and a telephone call can go into a voice mailbox. They both do not guarantee communication with the person we want to talk with. Only IM does it.

IM is morphing from a person-to-person communications tool into an information access tool. An example is ActiveBuddy. Write John Borland and Stefanie Olsen in (April 25, 2001):

ActiveBuddy is putting a new twist on an old idea of bots or “intelligent agents”–small pieces of software that can act more or less independently of direct human control. The service meshes the “chatterbots” that have populated the Net for decades, badly mimicking human conversation, with the database searching functions of an ordinary portal such as Yahoo’s My Yahoo service. To consumers, the ActiveBuddy tool appears as just another name on a “buddy” list of one of the various IM providers. But on the other end of the buddy is a computer rather than a person.

A recognition of the importance of Instant Messaging is Microsoft’s decision to integrate Windows Messenger into Windows XP. Innovation in IM has just begun. One way to enhance its power is to combine it with SMS and Email.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.