IM for dummies
November 25, 2006 3:11 PM   Subscribe

Which instant message system and client to use for my extended family?

We've extended across the English-speaking world, and if I can get us all to use IM it could make us feel closer again. Getting us all onto the same system seems important - no point if we can't chat as family.

I feel a bit of a dinosaur even for asking this (software is my job, so I'm hopelessly behind the times) as the teenagers in the family are all adepts. I'm hoping for suggestions for an easy-to-set-up, unobtrusive IM system & client, for PCs and Macs, which we older fogeys can work without having to get our kids to help us all the time. A please-everyone solution is unlikely, but we later learners need a simple starting point that preferably doesn't expose us to extra spam. And if the system lets whiz-kids whiz, great!

I used gmail chat the other day (very easy and exciting, my first IM!) but it seems restricted to running while gmail is up, so I think we need an IM system which pops out a window at my end when someone wants to reach me, but the main criterion is simplicity.
posted by anadem to Computers & Internet (17 answers total)
I really enjoy using Skype for this sort of thing, and have had good luck with it all over the world. Simply because it's both a voice-chat system (in an ideal world) and a good IM client when the connection's not good enough for 'calling'.
posted by lilithim at 3:24 PM on November 25, 2006

Google Talk works with a standalone client, as well as running inside your GMail page. It also does voice chat, and interoperates with Apple iChat (for the Mac users) or any standard Jabber client (good for geeks).
posted by mbrubeck at 3:31 PM on November 25, 2006

Until we moved to Skype (great for relatives in various countries), we were using MSN messenger - mainly because it comes on every Windows machine. This was with grandkids, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc so the usability is definitely there. You can get MSN Messenger for Mac here.
posted by niles at 3:37 PM on November 25, 2006

For that matter, skype is very nice too. We've all transitioned over to it, and can text chat, voice chat, or video.
posted by niles at 3:38 PM on November 25, 2006

If any of your family are Mac users, then I highly recommend AIM, because that's what iChat, the built-in OS X IM client, uses. iChat is incredibly easy to use and has integrated audio or audio/video chat to other Mac users. AIM for Windows is kinda crap, but on Windows you could use Trillian or gAIM instead, both of which connect quite happily to the AIM network and, like iChat, don't have any adverts in.
posted by Mwongozi at 3:39 PM on November 25, 2006

I've found it very easy to get the family using Skype (for IM, voice and video) on Mac and PC. AIM/iChat was OK up until we wanted to use voice, when firewall issues became insurmountable. However, AIM and particularly Trillian were perceived as difficult to use by my (computer-literate) parents.
posted by beniamino at 3:49 PM on November 25, 2006

Google Talk (the chat system that powers Gmail chat) is also available as a standalone program for instant messaging. It's got the simplest user interface, integrates with Gmail for searching and (optional) archiving, and is built on top of an open standard, so it can connect to some other instant messaging networks.

AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) and Yahoo Messenger have a lot more users here in the U.S., and Microsoft's MSN Messenger (also called Windows Live Messenger) is fairly popular overseas, so those might be useful options as well. If you're interacting with the teenagers in your family, they might well be using MySpace's instant messaging system as well. Skype is also popular, especially for business users outside the U.S., but is more focused on voice chat.

If people don't want to change systems, you might well end up using one of the more complicated, feature-laden IM systems (recent versions of AIM and Yahoo Messenger are horrendously overbuilt) but it's probably worth it to talk to your
posted by anildash at 3:52 PM on November 25, 2006

My university in the UK bans use of Skype because its use causes more incoming traffic than they want to pay for.

It's hard to imagine that the teenagers aren't already users of AIM or MSN. If they are you might want to stick to one of those two for convenience. It's easy to use both AIM and MSN at the same time using Trillian, Gaim, or Meebo.
posted by grouse at 3:58 PM on November 25, 2006

We like iChat/Trillian. The worst thing to use would be AIM, which I rank just below fork-in-the-eye.
posted by neuron at 4:17 PM on November 25, 2006

Let me second Trillian. With all the different IM clients it integrates, getting everyone to install the same programs will be less of an issue.
posted by EatTheWeak at 4:21 PM on November 25, 2006

Yahoo Messenger has a lot of features, but at the basic level isn't any harder to use than Google Talk. It has some cool features none of the others offer (to my knowledge)-- most notably offline messages- people can still message you when you're logged off, and you get it next time you log in.

And it has stuff like avatars that teens might find cool.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:22 PM on November 25, 2006

I third Gaim. Great, simple to use, versatile client.
posted by ifranzen at 4:28 PM on November 25, 2006

You're going to get as many answers here as there are clients. So here's my summary:

(a) Google Talk. Simple, functional. But setting up Jabber clients to access it on non-Windows computers probably violates the "I don't want our kids to have to help us" clause.

(b) AIM. Popular. Shit.

(c) Yahoo. I use it, but mainly because it's the most popular one amoung my family already. It is feature packed, but it's also simple to use - you don't have to use all the advanced features if you don't want to, but it does have voice, video, games, all that. Available for all platforms.

(d) MSN. See Yahoo. Pretty much the same deal, in fact they even talk to each other these days.

(e) Skype. Also good. A bit simpler than Yahoo et al., and if you double click on a contact's name it defaults to voice call rather than IM, which annoys me. But it generally feels like it's becoming the standard. And it's sneaky, install-in-your-profile-directory, beats-a-path-though-firewalls design means it tends to work find on office PCs.

(f) ICQ. What, people still use this?

(g) Trillian / Gaim / Any other multi-network chat client. They're great for geeks, who know people on 6 different IM networks, but for your purposes, they're probably ugly overkill, and lacking in some of the fun features that you get in dedicated clients, like voice, webcam, file sending.

In essence, you could probably just take a vote between Yahoo, Google talk, Skype and MSN, and whatever one wins will be the one for your family. They all do what you require.
posted by Jimbob at 5:38 PM on November 25, 2006

I think Skype is the way to go if most people in the family have broadband, since it's a good text client (and easy to set up) but also leaves you the possibility of doing voice chat without a lot of screwing around like you'll find is the case with other systems.

If voice chat isn't a concern, then I'd recommend using the AIM network, but with some other client software besides the (horrible) AOL one. On a PC, Trillian; on Linux, Gaim or Kopete; on a Mac, Adium or iChat.

I suspect that many people in your family may already have signed up for one or more IM networks, probably either AIM or MSN, so it may be easier to find which has more people signed up for it (or which the people who aren't likely to be able to switch or use a network-agnostic client are using), and get everyone else onto that.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:49 PM on November 25, 2006

Agreed, it's probably best to use what a lot of people are already using, if they tend to gravitate to a particular client. I'm not real partial to AIM, but since all of my friends are on it I end up using it as well.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:08 PM on November 25, 2006

In case anyone hates AIM but not ICQ (from the look of the other comments, my hubby and I may be among the last of those), ICQ talks to AIM. Likewise, Yahoo now says it talks to Windows Live Messenger (I haven't tested that one). I use Trillian, but when the hubby was overseas for a year, we used Y! and ICQ to chat with the webcam (and play ICQ pool or some game with sheep)--the webcam feature of Trillian Pro didn't want to work most of the time.
posted by Cricket at 10:14 PM on November 25, 2006

If you leave your web browser running with your Gmail inbox open in a minimized window (or in a background tab, if you're using Firefox), Gmail will make a noise and attract your attention when another Gmail user opens a chat session to you. This works at least as well as any other IM client, as far as I can tell.

I'd recommend spending a little more time messing about with Gmail chat before you even bother looking for anything else.
posted by flabdablet at 6:38 AM on November 26, 2006

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