This article has not matured well. I had been planning to write a blog, which discussed the current attempts led by Google to re-enclose the chat communities.  The landscape had changed, with Google, in the spring of 2013 shit-canning Google Reader its RSS reader, and crippling XMPP in Google Talk. I had meant to write something on the modern enclosure movement, the closest I got was my blog article, “A bad week for RSS”. My thoughts on the impact of the NSA/GCHQ monitoring scandal and personal behaviour i.e. my response in terms of chat use was posted in a article called “Stable Doors and Missing Horses…”, on my blog. The rest of this article is about how to use multi-protocol chat services.

Facebook have also changed up so that the multi-protocol clients  don’t work with it anymore. Microsoft have bought Skype and so Windows Messenger has gone. (2015)

Much of this article is now out of date, the basic advice that you need to negotiate your message carrier with your correspondents, and best use a multi-protocol client is probably good advice, but the need for open-source, European ownership and encryption is now higher, for those that want or need it.  So today, 2013, the need for jabber is greater, and I am returning to SMS and BBM for those few of my correspondents that have it.

Whatsapp is a new kid on the block, keeps the message content secret, only works on a smartphone.



In order to use instant messaging software to chat with friends and colleagues, you need two pieces of software technology. One is a client and one is an internet service. During the early 2000s, the service providers were trying to lock you into their networks, so the choice of service provider mandated the client technology but the establishment of multi-protocol clients means that people can choose their service technology and correspondents as separate decisions, although not everyone is particularly promiscuous in their use of chat service provider.

Quick Start

  • Work out who you want to chat to
  • Choose one or more mutually acceptable chat services
    • Skype permits Video calls, Google Talk starts a multi-dimensional relationship including calendar, reader & latitude and AIM has a good SMS interface in the USA.
  • Open accounts at the service provider sites, if you don’t already have accounts
    • See get a chat service below
  • Download and install appropriate clients, if necessary
    • pidgin and adium require plugin’s for some services, Skype and Facebook for instance
  • Configure your service(s) within the client
  • Define any new status that you may need
  • Ensure that the client(s) start and run appropriately
    • this depends on your usage, I know people who have their mobile phones turned off except when they’re making a call. Not being logged in is the equivalent of having your phone turned off.
  • Bob’s your Uncle


While it would seem natural to consider the client configuration first, because that is what you see, I think it best to consider the invisible network services first, because that determines who you can chat with. The Chat services carry messages between two correspondents and usually offer an address book service as well. Most of the big technology companies offer this ‘carrier’ service, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, AOL together with new entrants, Skype and Facebook. The address book functionality usually involves you exchanging an invitation/response handshake i.e. both correspondents usually need to agree to participate in each other’s address books. You’ll need to have agreed which service to use through another medium, e-mail or phone. The client software technologies will need to login to the services. In order to acquire an account, you’ll need to visit the service provider’s web site, although see ‘Chat Services’ below.

The client device needs to be connected to the internet, best with a web cam and running a chat client software program. For a computer, the multi-protocol client software decision is constrained by the operating system you use. The two key clients available today are

  • pidgin, available at and
  • its Mac derivative Adium, available as a stable release at, or as a beta release at

If using Windows, Linux or Opensolaris, you should use pidgin, if using a Mac, you should probably use Adium. Mac’s are distributed with a chat client called iChat but it only supports, AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) and GoogleTalk. I recommend that you really need MSN, well I do, and I have been working for Sun for the last 12 years, so if anyone could ignore it would be me, but MSN can’t be ignored. However if you want to chat to me, then AIM & Google work.

The internet chat services also usually support status reporting, and in some cases a mood state. The status text should be set so that your correspondents can see if you are OK to take messages. Its probably a good idea to set up custom states so that you can easily invoke them, I have states for breakfast, dinner, lunch, working, on the phone and some location dependent states, which are particularly useful when in unusual time zones. They permit signaling of online, idle, away and unavailable states. These should be used.

What is a protocol?

Strictly speaking the message and transport protocols are deep, hidden and technical standards and technologies, proprietary in most cases, but open in the case of Google and Jabber, who use a standard called XMPP. It defines message formats, security standards, error handling etc. What can be confusing is that often the whole of the internet componentry i.e. what I have referred to as the chat service is referred to as the protocol; once one uses multi protocol clients, the whole service just becomes a carrier protocol.

Bodie: What protocol do you use to chat?
Johnny: I use MSN dude!.

Some notes on Service Providers

Facebook is a social network with chat services embedded into it. You can use a web browser, or both Adium and Pidgin allow Facebook to act as a carrier service for their clients. Today you need to use a proprietary client and their focus is on mobile.

AOL inherited their chat service, now known as AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) from Netscape, which is when I obtained my login. It seemed pretty popular with my US correspondents and seems to integrate well with US phones and services. i.e. chat messages can be picked up on the phone via SMS, although the advent of smart phones means that multi-protocol IM applications such as Fring have become available, but you still need to login to the service with them. AIM has an asynchronous, nomadic mode of operation .

How to get a chat service login?

  • AIM & Skype, visit their sites, create an account, with Skype, you need to download their client
  • Google, you probably have an account; GoogleTalk uses their mail account id, but if you don’t have a mail account then you can login to google talk to establish IM privileges and identity.
  • Yahoo! chat services are part of the portal services. You have this feature active once you login. Pidgin & Adium have Yahoo logins as part of their distributed functionality

Mac’s ichat application has, AIM and Google Talk and Jabber login methods configured. I have not examined if it is possible to use ichat as a Microsoft chat client. I use Adium 1.3.6, but will be upgrading to 1.4b9 as soon as possible. Adium does support MSN nor Facebook.


This was last updated in September 2009, copied across to this wiki in June 2013, the Oracle blog’s demise was reflected in Dec 2017.

The original article was last updated in Sept 2009 and copied to this site in June 2013. It was revised once in Nov 2015, where some of the content was brought up to date, the old blog xref was fixed, references to the landscape brought up to date and some of the tenses fixed.

2 Replies

  1. Some comments in Nov 2015, I returned to this when I needed to reprint my business cards; I needed to document my Jabber connection.

    Over the last 18 months it is clear that the big boys, Facebook and Google are re-enclosing their networks. Microsoft have bought Skype. Whatsapp is the new kid on the block; does anyone use AIM & Yahoo any more? I don’t think BBM is going to make it.

    The featurephone integrated address books make some of what I same about protocol negotiation redundant. Once you login to the network using your phone you get to see who you know uses it. Only five years ago this had to be done out of band.

    I briefly mention Linux and the landscape has changed, the various distros are more eclectic on the multi-protocol clients that they use.

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