For a time there was quite a bit of debate about the merits of instant messaging in the workplace. Many managers and executives viewed IM as a distraction and a tool that needed to be kept off the desktops and browsers of their staffs. But over time, and as more workers already familiar with IM began entering the workforce, the IM walls began to come down.
For many job roles, the ability to ask quick questions and get immediate replies proved so beneficial, that even the most stodgy, traditional environments relented to the employee's desire for IM tools. Many employees simply started using their personal IM accounts (usually AOL Instant Messenger) and started making connections via IM with their most utilized contacts.
Of course AOL is not the only popular IM service, competing offerings from Microsoft and Yahoo also have their share of users. Bringing all these disparate IM accounts together under one application proved to be important (particularly for the corporate user) so services like Trillian were developed. The Trillian application lets users log in to multiple IM services through one interface, and simplifies contact and buddy list management.
But there could still be a barrier to the use of corporate IM, that is IT departments. Initially, these IM services all required a small application to be downloaded and installed on each individual PC. Many organizations restrict the end user's ability to install any programs on their computers, thus requiring IT involvement and sometimes permission. So many potential corporate users of IM were essentially shut out. In time, Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL did roll out web-based versions of their IM clients, but for many, the initial struggle with downloading clients ended their IM initiatives.
Enter web-based IM services. There are many competitors in this area, but my favorite and the best one is Meebo. Meebo lets you sign in to multiple IM services (AOL, MSN, Yahoo, Google), all from one unified Meebo account. It is entirely web-based so it requires no IT involvement, and works from any place you can connect to the Internet. Meebo even has the ability to create group chat rooms, and chat windows that you can embed on your corporate website, intranet, or wiki.
Best of all is the price - free! If you are in a small to medium size organization looking to take a very small step into collaborative technology, then have your employees create Meebo accounts, create a few chat rooms and try some Im-ing. The benefits your staff will realize from the 'instant' nature of the communucation and feedback will impress you.
In the next post I will take a look at a more robust platform for corporate chat, Campfire from 37signals.