Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Tools : Instant Messaging

In this post I plan to share the various tools that we adopted early on. Some are mainstream tools today, but some may be still new to some of us.

Instant Messaging: Most development teams I know of like to cut across rigid processes and collaborate freely. Around 1997, we were using phone and dial up email to communicate with designers in the US and our across our development offices in India. It was very expensive to make international calls and dial up email upload was done only periodically.

One of my colleagues, Deepti then told me about a messaging software that we can use to instantly communicate across the world. I asked her about the cost and she said it is free. It quicky spread across the company. We set up formal chat meetings and I believe that it made us very productive and cut down our communication costs to a great extent. AOL Instant Messanger allows you to create a link for a chat room and post it to a web site. It makes it convienient for every one to go to a web page, click on a link and join a chat room rather than wait for a chat invite. It is similar to a telephone conferencing system. We posted the agenda for the meeting on that web page with the chat room link. It ensured that everyone has a chance to see the agenda. Here is a sample link. Click here to see how it works.

Chat Protocol: Unlike normal web chat rooms which were mostly unmoderated, ours were very well moderated. The interesting part was that it was moderated by some of our youngest team members and they did a wonderful job keeping the meeting focused. For some reason they were more comfortable doing it online compared to a face-to-face meetings.

We wrote a chat protocol [not any new technology..just a document] and informed everyone about the same from the same web page where they came to join the chat.

One of our Project Managers from our San Diego office, Vicki, was a bit skeptical and wondered how a chat tool can help us at work. I helped her install the software on her machine so that she can overcome her doubt. A few weeks later she became a power user and enjoyed the convienience of instant messaging very much. One of our VP's was very enthusistic about it because it allowed him to reach employees one-on-one no matter where they were in the world more efficiently than a phone call.

About a year after we started using instant messaging as a formal communication medium which everyone including, directors and VPs used routinely, The Wall Street Journal wrote an article about how instant messaging would help business.
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