Difference Between Instant Messaging and Chat


December 3, 2020

Written by

Merlene Leano

The terms “chat” and “instant messaging” have most probably been interchanged confusingly by both business owners and end-users.

Who could blame them? At first glance, both terms seem and sound like both convey basically one and the same thing, especially in the context of communication.

In the online setting, however, these two terms convey different forms of keeping in touch. There is a huge difference between chatting and instant messaging.

Indeed, although chat allows users and even businesses to send instant messages to friends, colleagues and customers, instant message is still not considered the same as chat.

Quite confusing, isn’t it?

Chat and instant messaging both allow users to converse more quickly and easily through using a short messaging format and enabling the exchange of messages in real-time.

Ideally, both are used when both or all parties involved are online to ensure that sent messages can be read promptly.

It is this particular convenience and instantaneous connection that make both chat and instant messaging essential and powerhouse resources for modern-day communication.

But before delving further into the distinct features, pros, and cons of each, defining and elaborating what is chat and instant messaging comes first.

What is chat?

Man and woman chatting using chat messenger

Chat messaging was developed and launched during the 1970’s. The main goal for its design and conception was to give people the ability to chat with groups of people instantaneously.

What started with only five people who could chat at a time, was then expanded into a technological advancement in the 90’s that forever changed the digital landscape.

In the past, the use of the internet was more costly and the charges incurred were based on the duration spent by a person online. Due to the expensive costs of the internet then, it left a decline in the number of people using chat.

But, since AOL helped make the use of the internet more affordable, people are now able to stay online for as long as they wanted and that was also when chat rooms became a huge hit. In 1997, AOL was able to host over 19 million users in the midst of the elevation of chat rooms.

Chat basically transpires in a virtual chat room. It is a forum where multiple people connect with each other, discuss their shared interest, and send messages and images to everyone all at once.

The people that comprise a chat room do not always have to be initially affiliated or connected for them to be able to send and receive messages from each other.

To this day, more new applications and platforms are being developed to allow people to engage in chat rooms.

What is Instant Messaging (IM)?

Boy and girl communicating through Instant Messaging

Instant messaging is usually more suited for a one-on-one conversation between two individuals. IM’s strong gravitation towards one-on-one interaction is what marks one of the key difference between instant messaging and chat.

Instant messaging was released in the year 1960, when Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed the platform, they allowed up to 30 users to log and send messages to each other. It enables users to keep a list of people or contacts to communicate with.

The concept of instant messaging grew in popularity as advancements in technology continued to progress. It was in 1996 that instant messaging began to dominate the lifestyles of internet users, following Mirabilis’ introduction of the free instant-messaging service called ICQ.

Aside from messages, instant messaging now allows exchanging files such as videos, documents and images.

Both instant messaging and chat have dominated the business sector, as shown by the growing number of chat and IM platforms being developed to support all business sizes:

    1. Slack
    2. Microsoft Teams
    3. Line
    4. Skype
    5. Zoho Cliq

Spot the difference: What is the difference between IM and chat

While both are used mainly to communicate with other people, there are distinct differences that help distinguish how chat and IM operate differently:

User RequirementsUser account creation through clicking the ‘Register’ or ‘Sign Up’ buttonInternet ConnectionDownload the app and install it in the user’s smartphone or computer.Some IM apps require payment when new users sign up.
FeaturesGroup messagingCustomizableMessage visibility to everyone with access or link to the chat room

Invitation-only option for chat rooms

Pre-chat forms for customer assistance (for some chat software)

Supports online browser integration

Option to use usernames

One-to-one conversationPrivate messagingMultiple IM windows is allowed (one for each private message)

Quick and real-time messaging

Creation of contact list (or ‘Buddy List’) to save screen names of contacts

Check contact online statues

Instantly check read receipts and delivery status of messages

ProsAffordable communication resourceBoosts customer convenienceMultiple chat rooms is allowed

Embedded in websites

Enables live chat support

Boosts website traffic

Breaks down language barriers

Helps collate valuable end-user data and feedback

User-friendly interfaceReduced security and privacy riskReduced instances of spam

Applicable for work or business use

Video conferencing

Seamless communication even while on-the-go

Faster process for reviewing messages

ConsPrivacy invasion risksLack of content filteringIncompatibility with some mobile devices

Not ideal for businesses catering to the older generation or non-computer literate customers

Not suitable for users who are always traveling or on-the-go

Both users must be online to enable real-time messagingPotential misuse, especially in work settingsFile sharing via IM increase the risk of virus attacks and hacking

Unsuitable for lengthy messages and discussions

Chat VS Instant Messaging: More than just a tool for convenience

The common denominator between these two communication platforms is the capability to connect individuals, groups, and businesses across the globe. Communication is one of the secrets behind the rise and success of the biggest brands known today. People may not talk personally as much as they used to in the past, but the continuous and limitless connectivity provided by modern messaging channels make them feel as though they are not miles or time zones apart.

Whether its consumer-to-consumer, business-to-business, business-to-consumer, industries to sectors—breaking down ideas and coming up with a strategy to create something that is functional, beneficial and sustainable for the common good starts with a clear and effective way to connect and network.

Chat and instant messaging are both designed to support and augment existing communication resources and channels. The vast possibilities presented by easy and adaptable messaging systems contribute to the improvement of employee management, executing company operations, and imparting a brand’s identity and core objectives.

Advancements in communication secure the smoother transfer of knowledge in a manner that gaps in interpersonal relations done through other forms of connecting are bridged.


IM instant or chatting, communication helps push for efficiency.

Perhaps, instead of choosing which is the better communication tool or stressing over the difference between text message and instant message, the bigger question for business owners now is this: ‘What is the most suitable messaging channel that will complement their company’s unique environment, help build their brand and enhance their services?’

Finding a reliable partner to layout how the distinct features of each will impact the business both internally and externally is a good first step.

New Media Services is a name that brands can trust, as exhibited by our exceptional array of Live Operator Online Platform (LOOP) services. Businesses can choose from our flexible IM, SMS and EMAIL chat services. Aside from helping you understand the difference between IM and chat, we also help you visualize how each of our messaging platforms can support your business’ stability in the long run.

Send us a message to learn more about our cost-effective business chat solutions!

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