by Pat Boze LTLS Consultant
When you need to speak to someone right now, right away, do you use instant messaging or text messaging? Both are much-used online mediums that offer instant and effective communications in our fast-paced, mobile world. All the LTLS consultants have instant messaging addresses which can be found on our staff directory page.
Instant messaging has been around since the 1960’s (it actually pre-dates the Internet when computers were just beginning to ‘talk’ and share files) but became popular in the mid-1990’s with the acquisition, by AOL, of a company who had patents for instant messaging. As other companies, such as Yahoo and MSN, began to develop their own systems, each had its own proprietary instant messaging protocol that required users to run multiple clients to communicate with anyone from the outside. In 2000, an open-source protocol called Jabber was launched that served as a gateway to multiple IM protocols. Now, services like Trillian and Meebo also help overcome the proprietary barriers. Instant messaging allows for file transfers and simultaneous conversations with more than one person and is best used for short, direct, one-topic conversations. I use Instant Messaging in my work as a quick and easy way to communicate with others who use the service. It’s also a useful indicator of who is online and ready to communicate within an organization as opposed to those who are not online at that moment.
Text Messaging relies on the SMS (Short Message Service) protocol used by digital mobile phones and personal digital assistants. Text messages are short (160 characters), person-to-person messages. The first real text message was sent in 1993, and growth in use was slow until 2000, when use jumped in one year from 17 billion messages to 250 billion in 2001. Now, it is the most widely-used mobile data service in the world.
Although I don’t personally use text-messaging, I have family members who do (younger than myself!). Their preference is for text-messaging over phone or email conversations because you don’t have to call back or hope the email is read. There is something about the immediacy of text-messaging that appeals to people. Also, with the pervasiveness of cell phones, text messages can be sent even though the cell phone network or user may be unavailable.
Both text messaging and Instant messaging have led to the development of shortcut speech phrases to reduce the amount of typing, emoticons – typing abbreviations that convey visuals, and the development of imaginative ‘smiley’ faces that also convey emotions.
Importance for libraries
Why should libraries participate in these new, instant communications mediums? It’s important that we be available, where users are and where users are talking to others. Millions of people are using IM and text messaging every day, and a good percentage of those users are library patrons. Sign up for these services, provide links on your web site, and join the new age of communication.
Here are some examples of how libraries have used these both IM and Text Messaging technologies.
IM Reference & Text Messaging – instant contact for reference questions, where a librian is available to answer a question immediately
IM – easy, quick way to contact employees and board members for short, topical conversations
IM – communicate with staff in different parts of the building or different branches
Text Messaging – used for delivering digital content such as news alerts or library information or notices
Text Messaging – used as an inexpensive advertising medium - where instant coupons and promotional messages can be sent very cheaply.