WhatsApp Modern Messaging

There are a vast number of messaging solutions available today. I use many different services to send messages to people. The one that has risen to the top to become my messenger of choice is WhatsApp. Before I tell you what I like about it, let me give a rundown on what I don’t like about some of the other solutions.

Traditional SMS text messaging is an unnecessarily costly money making scam. I also think it’s grown a little stale with its outdated 160 character limitation. Sure you can run over 160 and your message will be sent as two messages, but that gets on peoples nerves.

Most of my contacts use standard text, so to get around the cost issue of purchasing an unlimited text plan, I use my Google Voice number with everyone and text via the GV app (or via the GV website) for free. Google Voice doesn’t support MMS, so there is no photo sharing available (which I have complained about endlessly.)

What bothers me the most about the Google Voice is its iOS app. It is old and clunky. There are some people who like to write three texts back-to-back to convey a single thought. You probably know someone like that. That degree of hammering reveals just how terrible the GV app is. It is terrible! It can’t handle that kind of deluge. In addition, when I’m looking at the current conversation thread and I receive a new message, I have to exit the thread, go back to the conversations area, wait for it to refresh, then tap to go back into the thread to read the new text message. Ridiculous. I grew tired of waiting for Google Voice to step it up with better features, so I started looking elsewhere.

Instant messenger clients are a good solution. AIM, Yahoo, Gchat, and others are all fine systems. Gchat is my favorite in this category because it automatically saves chat archives. Gchat is also the most popular in my circles thanks to it’s tie-in with Gmail. I don’t really have any complaints to make about using IM as a solution over texting. It is better for sure. But not that many people use it or sign in on a regular basis.

Apple’s iMessage is great, but it only works on iOS devices, so a lot of people in my contact list cannot make use of it. That makes it a deal-breaker for the best overall messaging solution. Also, in my experience, iMessage doesn’t insert timestamps into the message thread often enough. I can’t tell when an individual message was sent or often times when an entire conversation was started.

Facebook Messenger is popular these days. It looks good and it works great. My problem with it is that the notifications are spotty. Countless times I’ve fired up the real Facebook app and seen a little red 1 or 2 on the messages icon. No notification had been received from the Messenger app about those mysterious messages. I don’t know the percentage of failure. Perhaps 1 in 10 or 20? It’s often enough that I don’t trust FB Messenger to alert me about every incoming message so I don’t feel like I can rely on it.

WhatsApp does everything that I want. It’s cross-platform, meaning it is on every mobile OS in use today. It’s customizable. I like the font-size options, wallpaper options, and the ability to choose my own notification sound. I like the timestamp attached to every message (unlike iMessage where I simply cannot tell when a message was sent.) I like the little green checkmarks that show each message was 1) Delivered and 2) Read. I like that it shows when the other person is typing and when they were last active. I like that I can set my status upfront, such as “Available” or “Sleeping” or what have you. I like that I can send any kind of media through it and that media can be automatically saved to your camera roll or local storage on your phone. I also like that I can send voice memos to someone on the fly. Group chat is an option as well.

Compared to SMS (which is expensive and limited to 160 characters), GV (which is clunky, also limited to 160 characters, and lacks MMS support), iMessage (not universal), and Facebook Messenger (somewhat unreliable), I think WhatsApp does everything I need and then some. I’ve been using it exclusively with a few friends and it works great. I’m going to try to get more people on board.

One potential downside with WhatsApp is that you are limited to the phone app only. There does not exist a true web-based WhatsApp solution. It’s good to break away from my phone once in a while and message people from my computer where I can write faster with a keyboard. I’d like to see a computer-based option for sending and receiving messages on WhatsApp. Besides that one omission, I think WhatsApp is better than the competition at this point in time.

WhatsApp is 99¢ in the App Store. It is well worth that for a money saving ad-free texting solution. Even better, the app is free at the time of this writing for the 2012 holiday season. Go get it!

Who Still Uses ICQ?

I find it amusing that today’s multi-protocol chat programs still include access to ICQ. Who in the world still uses that? In my mind, ICQ was dead even before the old Netscape Navigator saw its demise. I’m sure that software makers want to add access to as many services as possible, but who actually uses ICQ in that mix? I’d be curious to see those numbers. If you search the web for any mention of ICQ these days, you’ll find that the majority of comments are about how it is a thing of the past. I agree. Let’s bury it.

Remembering Microsoft Comic Chat

Does anyone remember the cool comic-strip chat program on Windows that Microsoft called Comic Chat? I was just remembering that program today, and decided to look up a few screenshots to remember it by. At the time, I used to think this was the coolest program. Microsoft made the program in 1996, but killed it after the last release in 1998 (version 2.5). It was so much fun to play with! I wish they’d make a new version of this, perhaps web-based, that we can all enjoy. What fun it would be.

Comic Chat Snippet

MeeboMe Widget

When I am away from my desktop computer, I log on to Meebo to see who’s online. Tonight, I found a new widget in the offering that you place on your own site that allows visitors to chat with you through your own page. It is a project from the folks at Meebo, dubbed MeeboMe. It appears to be in the the alpha phase of development, but my tests worked without a hitch. And creating it was as easy as three very simple steps.

I have added my new creation to my Contact page. It shows my online status in the window. If I am not logged in, you can still leave offline messages and I’ll receive them the next time I log into Meebo. I think this is really cool. For now, I’ll certainly keep it on my page.

We Need a Single Chat Protocol

I once posted about how it seems like people don’t make use of online instant messengers like they used to. I remember a day when I’d sign onto AOL or Yahoo and I’d see a half a dozen people that were online. I would have expected popularity to grow as more and more people were connected to the Internet full time. For a while, it seemed to be that way, with friends staying online around the clock (mostly in an Away status). But today, usage appears to be a drop in the bucket compared to those days years ago. Perhaps that is just my own personal perception. After all, I am but one user that I am basing this whole thing on.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had a single protocol to use for instant messaging, as we do for email? I want the medium to create a single way of making it all work as one, with companies competing to have the best application to serve computer users. Friends and Buddies would be universal, and everyone could be active on the same network, mobile users included.

Personally, I hate IRC, which is indeed a standard prototol, but I am not talking about that in this discussion. I am keeping this specifically about the traditional instant messenger programs. Today, there are an awful lot of chat solutions out there. I want the networks of AOL, Yahoo, MSN, ICQ, Google (Jabber), etc. to become a single, industry-standard network. I have friends scattered all over the three big networks and it is ridiculous to manage. Having so many people spread so thin over these networks makes for everyone’s suffering in the end. With new technologies like MySpace becoming so overwhelmingly popular, I think the IM programs of yesterday need to merge into one to create a force that won’t become replaced or abandoned.

I’d actually read about this kind of proposal years ago. I heard that AOL was going to open up their network for use by everyone, and write a draft for an IM standard. At the time, AOL was the most popular IM service. I do not know if that is still true today. Obviously, the opening up of their network never happened and an industry standard was never created. I wonder if the will is still there today for this type of idea. We desperately need it, or I fear everyone’s buddy list will start to dry up as people switch to whatever the latest thing happens to be at the moment.

Until such a day, I’ll continue to use Adium on my Mac and Meebo on my PC as a way to access all of my chat services in one place. Vendor chat software like the real AOL Instant Messenger have become so bloated and full of ads, it is a wonder why anyone would even consider using them. Yahoo does make a good product, but the amount of memory it consumes is a little staggering, as is true with about all of them, as more features are stacked on to compete with the other guys. Perhaps some of the bloat in these programs can be trimmed by merging, as well. Sounds like a winning idea to me.

Meebo

Have you tried meebo.com? It is a website where you can log on to all of your instant messaging accounts in one place, with any software installation necessary! It not only gets the job done, it does so with ease and in style.

I often log on to IM services (usually with AOL and Yahoo). I don’t use the native software for any of them. I don’t need to, but keep in mind that in order to do some advanced features, you may need to use the actual native programs. Ads, feature bloat, and memory hogging are the mean reasons why I don’t download a one of them. I usually use an all-in-one chat program, such as Trillian (Win), Adium (Mac), and Gaim (now called Pidgin), which lets me log on to most any network there is today. But you really don’t need to install any of these programs. You can chat with all of your buddies on any service via Meebo. I used it exclusively when I first bought my Mac. I found that I really didn’t need anything more.

It has all the features you need and it works fantastically. You’ll soon forget you are using a website at all. You can sign on to any single chat service outright, but if you use more than one, I recommend creating a Meebo username so you can store all of your accounts under one roof. That way you need only sign on to their site with a single username and password.

I hear they have a sweet new mobile version of the site as well, for phone users. I have no interest in that, but if you want to sign on to your account from anyone’s computer, or your own at home without all the feature bloat, try Meebo. You won’t be disappointed. It finally does for instant messaging what webmail has done for email. All of your friends and contacts are automatically pulled from the server for each service, so absolutely no effort is required. Let’s hope this service is around for years to come.

Trillian

I have used instant messaging since the early days of the Internet, back in the day when AOL and ICQ were the only games in town. (Does anyone even use ICQ anymore?) Since those early days, each new product version has grown ever larger, bloated, and more complicated. Today, the programs to access these services are crammed full of features and options that hardly anyone is ever likely to use. If you use AOL or Yahoo messengers, check your system processes while it is running. You’re likely to be stunned at the amount of memory being sucked up by each of these beasts. They have ad windows, and aim to take over your system with resource-hogging, unnecessary features.

Enter Trillian. It is a free, polished, and intuitive chat program used to access virtually all of the different chat mediums from a single window. There are no advertisements or extra junk installed on your system. There is a also Pro version available for paying users that has more advanced features. I use the Basic version. I used to use this program a long time ago, and back then, it did have a few rough edges. Since that time, it has really grown up and become very slick and polished. The version I am using now is v3.1.

One thing that I like is that the program uses plug-ins for each of the chat networks. You can choose not to install ones that you don’t plan to use. Best of all, even while connected to all three chat services that I frequent (AOL, Yahoo, and MSN), the program uses approximately 14 MB of RAM. You can’t even run a single one of the native chat applications with that little memory. I’d like to add that I rarely connect to MSN because I do not like it.

If you are using any of the chat services to do video chat, or even just audio, you will probably be better off using the real native program for that. But for everything else, don’t waste your time or space installing any of the instant messaging beasts. Trillian is all you need.

As far as I know, Trillian it is for Windows only. If you use Linux, then Gaim is obviously your best bet. But if you are running Windows, you’ll find Trillian to be much more modern and polished than Gaim. At the time of this writing, Gaim version 2.0 has not been yet been finalized. It seems like it has been ages since the last release came out. Therefore, I am basing my comparison on the current version of Gaim, which is 1.50.

Is Instant Messaging Still Hip?

I have been a user of instant messaging since the early days when ICQ and the AOL messenger were the only games in town. Ten years ago, I created my AOL screenname that I still use today. The program grew quickly in popularity, and along came Yahoo and MSN. Suddenly, I was able to chat at all hours to most of my friends and family. I used to sign on nearly every time I sat at the computer, just to see if anyone I knew was on. Most of the time I’d find at least one of my buddies online. With the spread of always-on broadband Internet connections, I thought for sure that most of my buddies would eventually fall into the habit of leaving their IM software up and running in an away state, as I had noticed some people doing.

Time has passed, and today when I sign on to AOL and Yahoo, there is usually nobody online. Is this just my experience, or have others noticed it to? Maybe I just have fewer friends than I used to or something. But it is only every now and then that someone on my list logs on.

Today, I use Gaim to connect to the services all at once. It uses less memory, has no ads, and isn’t intrusive. Although I am almost never engaged in actual chat, I sign onto it anyway, just to tow the line and try to keep it alive. I figure if my buddies log on and see at least one person, they’ll be more inclined in the future to keep logging on.

Perhaps newer technologies like text messaging, Skype, MySpace, and There.com have siphoned away users from traditional instant messaging software. I don’t know the reason, or if the problem is as bad as I see it from my point of view, but I sure wish more people would continue to use these services. If the original programs have grown too bloated and bulky for you, try using Gaim or Trillian instead. Either is usually a better alternative to the real programs.