It has taken a lot of older people (like me) by surprise, but the younger generation love instant messaging on their mobile phones. I am amazed that they find it so attractive when a conventional voice call is so easy to make.
The theory is that the message can be sent anytime, whether the recipient is available or not, an asynchronous concept (like voice mail and e-mail), compared to the synchronous principle implied by a conversation. This of course should also make mobile phones a lot cheaper to run (if not to buy), something parents are getting rather worried about, since the awkward keypads encourage short messages. Unfortunately this seldom materialises since messaging is used as well as voice and the volume of messages seems to expand exponentially.
To some extent I am guilty of being an old stick-in-the-mud, but there are genuine worries. Are children being exploited? Is this socially a good thing or shouldn't children be encouraged to communicate face-to-face? But my biggest fear is that "instant" is the problem and children are encouraged to react spontaneously and not to plan ahead, with the attendant lack of thought.
The above considerations however are for expert child psychologists to dwell on, not IT people. But IT cannot ignore the concept because instant messaging is now becoming equally prevalent in business circles. It is one of a number of peer-to-peer concepts being demanded by users. There are in addition other P2P concepts, the use of which is growing, few of which are based on properly considered requirements. The main driving force is to find something to do with all that wasted power in the form of desktop PCs. Possibly a worse, but related problem, is the proliferation of data around most organisations. Thus it is being proposed that it would be a good idea if any user could access data (and possibly other services) on other users PCs. This is a bad idea, the data needs sorting out and migrating to secure servers.
File swapping on home PCs has had a lot of exposure because of first Napster and now other P2P systems such as Kazan. These were primarily used to enable a PC user, connected to the Internet, to make available a selection of audio tracks, most copied from commercial CDs. Anyone could transfer these files, which the music industry considered to be theft! Nevertheless these services have created a number of useful standards, which are now in use in the corporate world. These can be used over the Internet but they are proving more attractive over internal networks. Unfortunately the same justifications are being applied as the children used, it is good fun. There seems to be little or no thought given to time wasting, security, legality and other problems that can be introduced.
The time has arrived to put a stop to the uncontrolled use of P2P products in the corporate world. They should be useful in a number of cases, but these need proper assessment and cost justification.
The network is the key to controlling P2P applications. Studies are unveiling a growth of major network problems due to P2P traffic escalation. Any cost justification exercise involving P2P must include the cost of a network upgrade, but before hurrying into any drastic changes, invest in a study to monitor the actual traffic on the current network It is not only P2P that can be causing undue network traffic and this is an exercise that should be done regularly in any case. Growing interest in instant messaging can be a good excuse to clean up internal networks.< BR>
Martin Healey, pioneer development Intel-based computers en c/s-architecture. Director of a number of IT specialist companies and an Emeritus Professor of the University of Wales.