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News about Britain

Instant messaging

Instant messaging

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When you meet someone for the first time, do you ask their ASL? Do you LOL if they come out with something funny, and say 'CU L8er' when you finish the conversation? If you know what I'm talking about, then you are probably already a user of Instant Messaging, or IM.

The idea behind IM is simple. When you send someone an email, you don't know when you will get a reply. Your friend might not check their messages, or might not use that email address anymore. With IM, however, a program on your computer tells you when a friend is online. You can then send a message to your friend, who can type a reply instantly. To do this, you need an IM program, such as AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger or Windows IM.

IM is already hugely popular in the USA, where people spend five times more time online than in Europe. However, IM is starting to take off in the UK, with over 3,000 people signing up to MSN Messenger alone every day. Worldwide, AIM, the IM service provided by AOL is by far the most popular. It has 195 million users who send about 1.6 billion messages every day. ICQ, which is owned by AOL, has about 140 million messengers, and MSN and Windows IM put together have about 75 million users.

The advantages of IM are obvious, but there is one very important disadvantage. You can only contact someone on the same network as you. If your friend is using AIM, and you are using MSN, you cannot talk to each other. This makes IM less useful than it should be. Imagine if you could not send an email from Hotmail to Yahoo. However, things look like they will change soon.

In general, the future looks bright for IM. Many programs also allow you to have voice conversations, have video conferencing - this means you can see the other person using a webcam - and also let you swap pictures, music and other files.

So, perhaps we'll all soon be asking someone's age, sex and location (ASL), and laughing out loud (LOL) when they say something funny. See you later! (CU L8er)



come out with
here, say

computer software, application (note the American spelling)

connected to a computer network, in this case to an IM service

hugely popular
used by many people

take off
become popular

signing up to
becoming users of

owned by
if something is owned by someone, it belongs to them

evident, clear, easy to see and understand

the future looks bright
what will happen later is likely to be good

a camera which records moving images and sound and allows these to be transmitted over a computer network, e.g. the Internet, as they happen


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Download this pdf file (73 k) to practise your English
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Use instant messaging safely *

* The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
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