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What's the difference between email, online chat, and instant messaging?

Answer: These are three different ways of communicating with other people over the Internet. These methods are explained below.

  1. Email is a way of sending individual messages to people using an email server to relay the message. Because the server holds the messages for a person until he or she retrieves them, email can be sent whether or not a person is online. One way to send or receive email is to use a mail program such as Microsoft Outlook or Apple Mail that will communicate with your mail server. Another method is called Webmail (such as Hotmail or Gmail) that allows you to send messages using a Web-based interface. To send someone an email message using either of these methods, you simply need to know their email address.
  2. Online Chat is a way of talking online in real-time with many people at once. Some chat rooms are available via the Web, while others require a separate software program to chat with other users. Online chat rooms allow multiple users to join in a conversation and see what all the other people are typing. Typically chat rooms are based around certain themes, such as Teen Chat, Macintosh Chat, or Religious Chat. Using online chat, you can meet new people in an anonymous environment. You will need to choose a "screen name" to join a chat room, but the screen name can be whatever you would like it to be. I usually choose something that describes me well, like "Hot Guy."
  3. Instant Messaging, or "IMing," is a way of communicating online with a select group of people, usually individually. To instant message someone, you need to know his or her screen name. You can save your friends' screen names in a list called a "Buddy List." In the instant messaging world, your screen name is likely to be more permanent than with online chat. Also, unlike online chat, you need to use an instant messaging program, such as AOL Instant Messenger or MSN Messenger. While online, you can open IM windows with many of your friends at once and type messages back and forth until you realize it's time for bed and you haven't done your homework yet.

Published: September 17, 2004   —   Updated: October 3, 2016 — by Per Christensson

Answer from the PC Help Center