Instant Messaging has significantly changed the way we communicate and conduct business. Some people call it a waste of time, while others swear by how efficient they are because of it. What started off as a way for AOL users to communicate with each other, Instant Messaging (IM) has turned into a phenomenon that increases its numbers every minute of every day.

According to AOL, more than 70 percent of Internet users use some form of IM and more than 38 percent of IM users send as many, if not more, IMs as they do e-mails. In the workplace, 58 percent use IM to communicate with colleagues, 49 percent to make business decisions and 28 percent to communicate with clients. Many businesses owners even put their IM screen name on their cards.

It is estimated that over 18 billion Instant Messages are being sent every day worldwide. Don’t you think it’s time for you to jump on the bandwagon?

Getting with the program

So you want to get your business started with IM but you don’t know how. For starters, there are a handful of programs available that you should know about. The more popular Instant Messaging programs include AOL's AIM, ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, and MSN Messenger. Of course, all of these programs are free.

The most popular one is AOL’s AIM. Just download the software, create a screen name (your handle online) and then you can start messaging. ICQ is another popular one. At CNET.com, it is their most popular download with over 370,000,000 as of this summer.

Google has even gotten into the act with Google Talk, which allows users to get in touch via Gmail, IM or a call. Although not as popular as the other programs, it’s quickly gaining an audience.

Smileys and shorthand

Once you start communicating with Instant Messages, you’ll come across some odd symbols and weird letter combinations. While some are obvious (LOL or Laugh Out Loud) others may need an explanation. Here is a list of some of the more popular IM Lingo and their shorthand shortcuts. Have fun!

:)          Happy

:(          Sad

:o         Surprised

:p         Sticking Tongue Out

:D        Big Smile

:*)        Kiss

;)          Wink

:/          Frustrated

^_^      Squinty eyes

lol        Laugh Out Loud

brb      Be Right Back

btw      By the way

thx       Thanks

l8r        Later

ttyl        Talk to you later

ttfn       Ta Ta For Now

imho    In My Humble Opinion

np        No problem

gtg       Got to go

rofl       Rolling On Floor Laughing

zzz       Sleeping, bored or tired

omg    Oh My God

kewl    Cool

j/k        Just Kidding

b/c       Because