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Wednesday,  January 29 12:01 AM EDT

AT&T Offers Instant Messaging

By Jason Simpson

San Francisco - AT&T spokesman Ed Larsen announced today that the company will soon release Telephone Instant Messaging or TIM. "The communications industry has advanced in dramatic ways and it's high time for AT&T to catch up."

"In the past ten years, e-mail has revolutionized the Internet. However, this technology was still considered by some to be far too slow for the fast paced world we live in. This led to the development of instant messaging programs like AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ. With instant messaging, one individual can send a message to another individual in real time or 'instantly'," Larsen continued.

AT&T does not want to be left behind. "We already have the infrastructure in place," Larsen said. "Our TIM application will work similarly to the existing IM applications out there, but with several improvements." In Larsen's demonstration, he explained that each user is given a unique phone id or "number". This is fairly standard in the IM world. This number can then be keyed into a telephone to initiate contact with another user. What's revolutionary about AT&T's TIM application, according to Larsen, is that the users will not be limited to communicating by typing. The user's voice is "streamed" over the telephone line in "real-time."

Larsen believes this technology will initially appeal mostly to businesses, but that eventually individuals will want to use it to keep in touch with family and friends.

"In a workplace, you might send someone an e-mail," Larsen explained, "but that could take some time. There is a large set of computer protocols which this type of communication must jump through like hoops. A large complaint among office workers is that some people don't even read their e-mail, so some offices use IM. There is a greater sense of immediacy. But, with the existing IM applications, you are still limited to the speed at which you can type. Studies indicate that over sixty-two percent of office employees who regularly use a computer cannot type. With AT&T TIM, these concerns are a thing of the past."

When asked about competing with the "attachment" feature of most modern e-mail applications, Larsen said that AT&T is currently researching a mechanism which would send documents over the telephone line, but refused to go into any details due to pending patent issues.

Some members of the business world are not so thrilled however. "I don't ignore my e-mail," said Larry Zau, a low level manager at a medium sized software company. "Instead I delegate e-mail response generation to a later date. Delegation is the key to good management skills. With this new 'voice-over-phone-line' technology, it will be extremely difficult to delegate response generation to a later date. I can see it now. Any attempts at delegation would result in a brisk 'Hello?' or 'Are you still there?' making my job a lot tougher." He then digressed into an incoherent metaphor involving the stateless nature of the HTTP protocol.

Larsen is also faced with other challenges in bringing IM off of the desktop. Studies indicate that computer solitaire is the most widely used application in the business world. To combat this feature, AT&T's TIM platform will offer a "deck of playing cards" with each subscription to their service. With this "deck", according to Larsen, an individual can actually play solitaire in real time in real 3D. "Not only that," Larsen continued, "the deck can be used to play any standard card game the user desires.Lookout Microsoft Solitaire!"

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