Rhodri Marsden: Cyberman

There are new ways to make us pay. Gt th msg?

Hi, how r u? Welcome to the world of instant messaging, or IM, where the awesome power of the internet is harnessed to let us exchange mundane notes in real time, for free.

Some IM programs have become more sophisticated, adding bells and whistles such as voice communication, but the original use is still the most popular: chatting to people - often complete strangers - just because you can. "Look!" I remember shouting to my uninterested girlfriend back in 1996: "I'm talking to a complete idiot, but - he's in Australia! Amazing."

Always-on internet connections have boosted the popularity of IM. Only this week, MySpace announced a new service to sit alongside Google's GTalk, Microsoft's Messenger, AOL's AIM and the others that carry our notelets to and fro.

The one essential requirement for any IM network, however, seems to be a pathetic incompatibility with the others, so you can only communicate with people using the same one. If mobiles worked the same way, we'd be carrying four different handsets and constantly losing track of who we could call on which phone.

But the IM companies are realising the absurdity of this situation: partnerships have been announced between Microsoft and Yahoo!, and AOL and Google, which will, by later this year, give each pair a roughly equal market share of about 50 million users each. While they continue to fight for pole position in the race to become the predominant IM provider, many people are simply turning to programs such as Trillian, which cleverly allow access to all the major networks from within a single application.

IM's future supposedly lies on mobile phones. Many handsets can now connect to a worldwide service called Yamigo, through which you can access the major IM networks - but I failed utterly to make it work, and I'm not alone. Yamigo's website says that more than 61,000 people have signed up, but only 43 appeared to be using the service on Monday evening.

This suits the mobile-phone companies, who make huge sums from the sending of SMS messages. With 3.1 billion texts sent by UK residents in December - many of them merely saying "Merry Christmas" - the last thing these companies want is for MSN or AOL to carry our seasonal wishes, and to lose out on the ludicrous 10p they currently charge us to send each one.

In a move that seems altruistic but is more about maintaining profits, an IM standard was recently announced that will work across all mobile networks, keeping us in permanent contact with each other - no doubt at a carefully controlled price level.

The phrase "Instant Message" was coined by the sci-fi writer Paul Linebarger in the 1960s. He imagined they would travel faster than the speed of light and be incredibly expensive. He would have been delighted to know that at least one of his predictions was set to come true.

cyber@timewasting.net

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before