Instant messaging and the unions

These days, when you want to communicate, you have a real choice. It used to be that you’d either phone or send a letter. Then came fax machines, then email, then text messaging. These days, for those of us who are online, the choice is usually between a phone call, a text message or an email. (Faxes and letters sent by post are in terminal decline.)
But there’s another technology, instant messaging, which should fit in somewhere between text messaging and email. Surprisingly, unions have been making very little use of it.

The limitations of text messaging are fairly obvious: the messages have to be very short, and keying them in can be a painful process. Nevertheless, they have become enormously popular.
Instant messaging is an Internet-based form of sending short messages. It was popularized initially by AOL with its system of ‘buddies’ (it would tell you when your friends were online so that you could chat with them). In the late 1990s, instant messaging exploded in popularity with the launch of ICQ, a free program aimed at the millions who were not on AOL’s network.
Today, there are several competing instant messaging systems which are largely incompatible with each other. The most popular ones are ICQ, AOL Instant Messenger, MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger. There is also an open source instant messenging solution called Jabber, and there’s some free software called Trillian which allows instant messenging to take place between the various competing services, succeeding only some of the time.
The software remains incredibly popular today. According to the website, 248 million copies of the current version of ICQ have been downloaded. AOL Instant Messenger is given away to every new subscriber to AOL. Microsoft gives its instant messaging software away with every copy of Windows.
With such staggeringly high numbers, you’d think that a lot of trade unionists are probably already using instant messaging. They almost certainly are, but unions as institutions don’t seem to be making any use of this at all.
Why would unions want to use software like ICQ?
Well, have a look at some of the things you can do with it: There’s instant messages – a free alternative to sending text messages by phone. And there’s also videoconferencing, making voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) phone calls to other PCs or to telephones, creating instant, multi-user chat rooms, or exchanging files (instead of sending them as email attachments).
Surely all these features will interest trade union activists – as they have interested the hundreds of millions of people who already using ICQ and other forms of instant messaging.
Readers of this column who want to try out ICQ are encouraged to download the software (from and may feel free to contact me – my ICQ number is 49-624-912.

5 Comments on "Instant messaging and the unions"

  1. Jim Bond | 06/09/2004 at 10:15 |

    “IM — instant messaging — is a widely-adopted communications tool with tens of millions of users. But unions hardly make use of it at all.”
    Yeah! right and I’d advise Trade Unions to stay well away from IM and to start enciphering their e-mail as well. To stop the [spys] at GCHQ and the NSA from “spying” on them over the Internet, through ECHELON and “Total Awareness” etc. etc.
    Jim Bond.

  2. Bob Riddle | 06/09/2004 at 17:13 |

    I am a local president with the Canadian Union of Postal Woerkers. Our first class mail has been in decline for a number of years now.
    The North Americian Free Trade Agreement and the U.S. based United Parcel Service [UPS] place our parcel delivery in jeopardy especially if UPS wins their challenge against Canada Post.
    Our union does use fax, internet and any new technology. Yes, we do use the post office, after all it is our jobs that are at stake. I feel that the mail is the only way to ensure that confidental information does not get intercepted.
    I do believe that everyone must move forward in this world but we have to remember that big brother is in control of our tools. We all have to take great care in protecting our daily privacy as there are spy-cams and cell phones with cameras and predators that want to violate our personal lives. Instant messaging can be useful for unions. The voice on the telephone or looking into someones eyes and a hand shake is my choice.
    Peace & Solidarity.
    Bob Riddle.

  3. Jim Bond | 06/09/2004 at 20:39 |

    “I feel that the mail is the only way to ensure that confidental information does not get intercepted.”
    Bob Riddle
    Yeah! right but you must be joking Bob if you believe that [snail] mail “ensures” that confidental information does not get intercepted.
    Jim Bond.

  4. Jim Bond | 06/09/2004 at 21:12 |

    And howz about this Bob? with an e-mail program that I have developed to ensure that confidental information does not get intercepted.
    And it would give them, GCHQ and the NSA “real” trouble if everone enciphered their e-mail.
    Jim Bond.

  5. Khali Stanton | 08/10/2004 at 06:32 |

    One of the reasons that I have hesitated to explore instant messager software as a tool is because I was informed (rightly or wrongly) that they pose a potential security risk in regard to our network particularly in relation to trojans?
    Any thoughts on this?

Comments are closed.