Uptonian Thoughts

Instant Messaging and Accessibility

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My Engineering Professionalism (yeah, it’s a fluff class. We learned how to shake hands last week, and today we went over common coworker annoyances.) professor just said, “I don’t have [an instant messaging program] on my computer because I don’t like all those windows that pop up when you log in to Windows.” What?!

Even the dreaded AIM program can be told not to start at login, and you can suppress the Welcome window. Gaim offers a great alternative, not to mention Skype, Gizmo, Miranda, and Google Talk.

This statement just goes to show how easy it is for users to glaze over the available options. AIM has been so ingrained since elementary school in so many of my classmates (yes, even the ones in EE or CpE) that they don’t know about any alternatives. Gaim is superior in almost every aspect; file transfer is available and the gaim-vv branch is scheduled to be incorporated in v2.0. So why isn’t it more popular?


There are ads for AIM all over the internet, but Gaim is spread by word of mouth alone. Should Gaim advertise? No, but the application needs more evangelists, it needs something more. Maybe something similar to Spread Firefox could be useful in this respect. Viral marketing definitely has a place on the internet today.

A-I-M is A-Ingrained

Like I said above, AIM was the client I used since about the seventh grade. AOL is what I used to connect to the internet, as did ALL of my friends. NO ONE knew any other options, and honestly, 7 years ago, there were not too many other options. How do we get today’s middle schoolers (believe me, they matter) familiar with their options? Kids don’t care about open source or anything of the sort. They want to talk to their friends, for free, EASILY. AIM does that. Gaim does that, better. Gaim is just not acquired quite as easily. Take a look at the Gaim page. You have to go to Windows Port to get the latest Windows stable build, and you have to go to the download page and then choose the correct “package” to download the new (and much improved) 2.0b1, then run it and install it. With AIM, there is a big honking yellow button that exclaims DOWNLOAD NOW! to all visitors. Again, maybe Spread Gaim would work to better improve this, or perhaps just a redesigned download page.

“Gaim is no easier than AIM, and it looks ugly as sin”

It baffles me as to why no one has stepped forward and made a GUI wrapper for Gaim in the vein of Adium. Gaim IS ugly, but that doesn’t change how useful it is. It DOES change how easily that usefulness can be taken advantage of, especially to first-time users. No one wants to have to enable a plugin to minimize to the system tray, and no one wants to look up how to change their font. A new, or even just redesigned, UI, either from the Gaim team or as a third party effort, would go a long way in helping instant messaging.

I have focused a lot on Gaim in this article, but the same goes for any instant messaging progrom. Sure, Google Talk looks good, and sure, Gizmo is infinitely easier to use, but they are all plagued by one common problem: no one knows!

On Thursday, when I have the recitation for this class, I’m going to try and mention Gaim to my professor after class. Hopefully I can change this IM prejudice, one user at a time.