As if you didn't already spend enough time blocking spam, battling pop-up ads, and replying to every single e-mail message you receive, another Internet communication medium is competing for a chunk of your brain: instant messaging.
Although infamous for its use in chat rooms, where teens and virtually faithless spouses while away the hours, instant messaging is a good way to stay in touch with wired friends, coworkers, and customers. Better yet, IM is free.
As with most Internet tools, the trick to productive instant messaging is knowing how to use it and when not to use it. Here is an overview of available IM services and software, along with some commonsense advice on how to safeguard your privacy and security while you're using them.