Instant messaging is a lot like chat, with a few key differences. One, most instant messages are sent to or received from people you know. Two, the conversations are just between you and one other person.
America Online members automatically get AOL's Instant Messenger and can use it within the service. If you know another person's screen name , you can use Instant Messenger to check to see if they are online. If they are, you can type them a quick message, and it automatically pops up on their screen.
Those who don't have AOL can still use Instant Messenger. You can download it from the Netscape Web site (www.netscape.com). It's a quick download, and it walks you through the steps of setting it up.
Sending "Instant" Messages
Instant Messenger lets you see, from among a list you set up yourself (a "Buddy List"), which of your friends are online at the same time you are (see Figure 6.13). You can exchange typed messages with those friends ”but unlike email, those messages show up instantly. The moment you send a message to a friend who's online, he or she sees it, and vice versa. So you can carry on a live, interactive conversation, much like chat.
Figure 6.13. AOL Instant Messenger lets you exchange live messages with friends who are online at the same time you are ”even if neither of you uses AOL.
The easiest way to sign up for Instant Messenger is to install Netscape Communicator. From Navigator's menu bar, choose Communicator, AOL Instant Messenger Service, and then follow the prompts to sign up.
Note that AOL Instant Messenger is not the only such service available. Another is Yahoo! Messenger, which you can learn about at messenger.yahoo.com. Internet Explorer offers a similar instant messaging system, called MSN Messenger. There are other instant message systems, but these are the main ones, and they are all free and fun.