Agencies that permit IM services will face third-party concerns

Shawn P. McCarthy

Instant messaging is now a staple for network managers who frequently consult colleagues down the hall or across the country. But IM conversations require an outside party to make the connection.

For example, if you use the America Online Instant Messenger service, your messages are routed through an AOL data center, which serves up ads on the window.

Another issue is that conversations usually are not archived. If your office's servers go down, could you prove it happened because of a change you were told to make via an instant message?

GOVERNMENT OFFICES that permit IM need to ask whether they're compromising security by involving a third party, and whether they violate regulations that require archiving e-mail messages. IMs are not e-mail. But maybe they should be treated as such.

We're now seeing new types of IM services designed for internal use behind an organization's firewall. No third party is involved, and conversations can be archived or even re-initiated.

An IM product from 2Way Corp. of Seattle recently received approval for limited use on some military networks.

Zaplet Inc. of Redwood Shores, Calif., makes small applications for Web collaboration, such as spreadsheets, messaging and calendars.

Lotus Development Corp. is working on Lotus Translation Services for Sametime, a middleware service for real-time translation of Web chat.

We're also seeing a shift toward peer-to-peer file sharing over the Internet through services such as It's already expanding to other file types, such as digital rights-swapping for documents and programs.

The number of instant messages sent by a typical office is expected to double in the next year.

Government offices risk losing control of their information flow if they don't find a way to deal with IM. Switching to software that allows IM but limits access and archives the messages is one way to cope.

Shawn P. McCarthy designs products for a Web search engine provider. E-mail him at

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