Best Instant Messaging & Chat Software in 2018

This software offers tools for teams to chat in real time, in private or open channels, and communicate more effectively. Instant messaging apps are designed for teams to work together, by allowing them to switch between different chat rooms. These tools also offer easy file sharing, ability to share links, documents, and save and archive chats for later reference. These tools are especially important for remote teams, since they allow them to constantly interact with each other, so as not to feel isolated. It lets team members easily see what others are working on at any given point of time. This category also includes live chat software that allows customers or site visitors to interact with customer support executives in real time. This type of software helps businesses convert website visitors into customers by instantly addressing their questions.  Read the full software guide...


Instant Messaging and Chat

What is Instant Messaging & Chat Software?

Instant messaging software facilitates one-to-one communication, whereas chat software allows multiple users to get in on a conversation at the same time.

Instant messaging software enables text-based communications between two individuals to happen in real time with the internet as the medium of transmission. Terse missives are sent back and forth via the internet between two individuals as each person alternately completes his/her message and clicks on the Send button (or the particular software’s equivalent of it).

Now, while that may show how IM software operates in a nutshell, the rapid technological advancement of this digital age has allowed for fancier features to be made possible. These include real-time text (transmission of missives character by character as alphanumerics get typed), multimedia file transfers, clickable URLs, and video chat.

A prime example of instant messaging software is the now-defunct Yahoo! Messenger client (it still exists but only the iOS, web browser, and Android clients still work. The standalone installers for the Mac, Linux, and Windows operating systems do not work anymore as the standalone client service has been discontinued.)

Chat software, on the other hand, allows for communications between several individuals in a virtual space called a chat room. Here, participating individuals may be friends in real life, office colleagues, business partners, and/or total strangers.

A well-known example of a chat program is Kakaotalk. The software is all the rage in South Korea and while it is a smartphone-based application and can function as an instant messaging software (it does allow for one-on-one messaging), it is primarily used as a chat software. Lately, though, it has evolved into a third-party app distribution platform with which users can share, download, install, and play gaming software with their friends via this messaging platform.

This differentiation of the two types though, no matter how necessary, somewhat borders on the pedantic considering that both types essentially have the same technology powering them. Therefore, we have categorized them together for the purpose of comparison.


Types of Instant Messaging and Chat Software

The four general types of instant messaging and chat programs are:

  • Single-protocol and multi-protocol programs
  • Mobile clients
  • Enterprise Software
  • Web-based messengers

Single- and multi-protocol programs are discerned by how limited or expansive their networks are. Single-protocol ones only connect you with users who are logged into their own network while multi-protocol software can interface with a slew of networks, allowing you to chat with people who are using other communication programs. Such a feature clearly is an advantage for people who have an extensive network and can’t be bothered with logging into the different single-protocol messaging platforms, just so they can contact their peers. For casual users though, single-protocol programs should suffice (provided their colleagues and/or friends log into the same network they’re using.)

A prime example of a single-protocol messaging program is Facebook Messenger (which has refused access to other chat programs in a bid to encourage users to sign up for their platform) while for the multi-protocol ones, Pidgin is a well-known multi-protocol chat client.

With the gadget industry’s pivot to mobile technology, the world has seen an unprecedented, exponential proliferation of smartphones. This has, in turn, coaxed developers to develop a myriad of mobile-based messengers that are mostly freeware. However, there are some you’ve to pay for (though typically, these have superior features to stay competitive).

A good example of a mobile client is the ubiquitous Facebook Messenger, a program that needs little to no introduction due to how pervasive it is in many people’s everyday lives.

Despite that while the above solution might be sufficient for the average joe, things are vastly different where companies are concerned—corporate environments need programs that have stringent levels of quality assurance regarding security, compatibility, efficiency, scalability, and overall reliability. This is where enterprise messaging software solutions come in.

These are typically more expensive but enterprise-level programs are feature-rich affairs that confer a slew of benefits including:

  • Recording and archiving of all chat sessions made by personnel (if so desired).
  • Oversee unregulated usage of instant messaging channels, improving security.
  • Streamline company expenses by cutting down the usage of outdated technology like long-distance phone calls.
  • Superior countermeasures aimed at hackers.
  • Match employees with IM login names, imposing accountability on all users of the messaging software.

Most—if not all—features touted by enterprise messaging software are security, scalability, and efficiency-related ones—characteristics that are indispensable to any corporate outfit. Examples of enterprise IM programs are: BigAnt Office Messenger 5 and Bopup Communication Server.

Now that we’ve gotten standalone IM messengers out of the way, we can now discuss Web-based messengers.

These programs are fairly easy to explain and even easier to use. They require little more than a reliable connection to the internet and yes, a web browser. Since they piggyback on web browsers, there’s no download necessary. Also, these software solutions are usually integrated into email services (for example, Yahoo! Messenger). All you have to do is log in to the service associated with these browser-based programs and you’re good to go. They’re the very embodiment of simplicity.

Please note these two things, however: One is that these are not enterprise-level messaging software solutions and two, quite a number are single-protocol programs. Examples of traditional web-based messaging software solutions are the aforementioned Yahoo! Messenger, Trillian, and Windows Live Messenger.


How to Choose Instant Messaging and Chat Software

For casual users, choosing an instant messaging and chat program is as straightforward as checking to see if one’s important contacts are using the same network as themselves, and if not, if the program the person prefers has multi-protocol support. If not, that might be a red flag for the user. Someone who hasn’t touched Facebook and has used another IM service all his/her life, for example, might very well be forced to use the services of the social media juggernaut if he/she finds all his friends have migrated to Facebook. There’s also the matter of whether or not the said user has a preference for smartphones in which case the usage of mobile-based messaging software would be a huge plus, as the convenience conferred is substantial. Moreover, web-based programs will, of course, be better than standalone clients and the way the major social media companies are going (exemplified by Yahoo’s move towards a web-based IM program) further cements this trend. They’re here to stay and the convenience they offer is very much appealing to general users.

But what about companies? They typically seek instant messaging software solutions that have—as has been mentioned—stringent levels of quality assurance regarding security, compatibility, efficiency, scalability, and overall reliability.

Here, we discuss the crucial aspects you should place a premium on if you’re looking for an enterprise-level messaging and chat program.

Security

This is almost always the primary reason why companies are leery of public IMs. Transmitting project and contract details and other sensitive information over communications lines they’ve no control over is something that’s risky for outfits big and small. Hence, the first thing you should look for are the following:

Can it verify each and every user that they are who they say they are? For readily apparent reasons, this should be on top of your list. Make sure the software you’re eyeing has this feature and if not, find out if it can integrate with third-party authentication systems like a directory service such as Microsoft's Active Directory.

There’s also the matter of whether or not the software can monitor and store login data and session information. This ensures your system won’t be abused by errant employees. Certainly, cases like IM systems being used for idle chat are not uncommon.

Encryption and anti-virus countermeasures are also two things that are to be considered crucial if you’re to set up a safe messaging system. A reliable encryption system means you won’t have to worry about your sensitive company data coursing through the unguarded ether of cyberspace while an exacting anti-malware software suite will guarantee you’ll be safe from the depredations of hackers and data-destroying malware.

System Requirements

The showstopper of many a consumer’s software needs, system requirements dictate whether or not your company’s IT infrastructure can readily run the software. Not checking (or even just perfunctorily checking) a program’s hardware and software requisites is a disaster in the making. The more expensive the software, the more of a loss it would be if you find out either it entirely consumes your outfit’s hardware resources, causing your IT arm to grind to a snail’s pace, or outright refuses to run.

Control

Another thing to consider is how much administrative control the software gives you. The amount of centralization, scalability, and the user-friendliness of its administrative tools is something that’s up there with the security aspect if you’re to have a system that’s as reliable as it is convenient to maintain control over.

Quality-of-Life Features

Compared to the other aspects discussed, this part may seemingly be superfluous but if you’re to choose among several IM offerings and if you ever find that all their other features are more or less equal, superior quality-of-life features might be the proverbial cherry-on-top-of-the-cake that might elevate one product to be more in line with what you want.

Features you should look out for include the superior scheduling characteristics, customizable notification settings, the ability to mass message entire teams, and substantial multimedia capabilities (video chat among multiple users being one example, as is the ability to transmit files of different formats).


Common Features of Instant Messaging & Chat

API Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are programmatic intersections with external products or platforms that allow for custom integrations with your own solutions or other solutions you are using.
Batch Permissions & Access Control user or group access and permission settings for software or other systems.
Chat Live text chat with customers, website visitors, mobile contacts and others.
Contact Management Manage large amounts of personal or business contacts in a centralized system.
Contact Sharing Share contacts across teams or platforms to give access to others or to migrate address books across different systems.
Document Comparison Compare and contrast different versions of documents and browse revision histories to consolidate collaborative changes.
Email Integration Integration with email clients or providers to create and send emails as well as view received emails within an application.
External Integrations Integrations with other software products or platforms to improve efficiency and compatibility across systems.
File Sharing Share files with colleagues, customers or other stakeholders for easier access across platforms, collaboration and/or version control.
File Transfer Transfer large files to colleagues, customers or other stakeholders. This is often used for files too large to transfer via email and other conventional transmission methods.
Google Apps Integration Integration with the G Suite, including Gmail, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Calendar, etc.
History/Version Control Track revision history, file versions and other changing data, commonly used in collaborative applications.
Marketing Automation Automate marketing processes, such as outreach emails, customer engagement, chat replies through the use of chatbots and others.
Multi-User Supports more than just one user account and generally allows for collaboration with colleagues.
Notifications Includes notification support and sends you alerts with information on important events and other time sensitive instances. For example through push notifications on mobile phones or email notifications.
Project Management Manage projects from conception through the planning stage to delivery and post-project reporting phases. This allows organisation teams to organise resources, plan budgets and improve efficiency in the delivery of project objectives.

Latest User Reviews of Instant Messaging & Chat

Slack
Catherine Gonzalez, Operations - SEAL Awards
"Slack has is all!"

I love how easy and instant it is. It has so many integrations that make it more comp...

HelpCrunch
Ilya Azovtsev 🚀, VP of Sales - Docsify
"Nice Chat"

Use case - Our customer support and sales guys use HelpCrunch to communicate with our...

Slack
Ed Moyse, Founder - If No Reply
"Relied upon daily"

Great messaging app that's integral to team chats and running our business as a whole!

Slack
Ashia Ackov, Founder - AV Magazine
"Keep in touch"

We literally depend on this product to keep us connected. We are a team from 3 differ...


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