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Whose technology do you choose? There are some clear market leaders in Instant Messaging marketing including Microsoft (no surprise here) http://messenger.microsoft.com But, like most Microsoft technology ools you pay a price for software/services, albeit a small one. You have to register with Microsoft's NET Passport www.microsoft.com/myservices/passport service which is designed to be a universal login - this only takes a few minutes but be forewarned they also try to get you to setup a Hot Mail account, but you can work around this.
The other dominant IM product is AOL's ICQ product http://web.icq.com - it has similar functionality as Microsoft's application. A great Israeli company, Mirabellis, Inc., subsequently acquired by AOL, developed original technology. My chief complaint with this product is irritating banner ads that AOL keeps pushing at you when you are utilizing their product. But, it's a small price to pay for a free product on client side.
Yahoo also has an IM product ("Yahoo Messenger") but I am not convinced this will stay as a core part of their business, as they appear to be still trying to figure out what they are going to become in post ".com gold rush era" market; i.e. Portal, Directory, Media giant, software/services company, etc. And, they've certainly jettisoned parts of their business last 12-18 months and I would wager they've had discussions about getting out of IM business.
Finally, IM is also quickly moving into other markets and devices including PDAs and Pagers - if you're a real geek and you can't stand to be out of touch while your in shower and you have a water proof device you can ping away. But, I think we all need some down time for friends and family, but wanted to make sure I covered all possible bases with this column - until next time!
Lee Traupel has 20 plus years of business development and marketing experience - he is the founder of Intelective Communications, Inc. http://www.intelective.com, a marketing services and software company which provides strategic and tactical marketing services exclusively to small to medium sized companies. Lee@intelective.com