How BlackBerry Messenger Works

Political candidates like Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee rely on BlackBerry Messenger to remain in touch with family and staff members. See more essential gadget pictures.
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Imagine taking part in a Web conference designed to pitch your product to foreign investors. You're in New York, and your potential investors are in London. Your partner and main presenter is in San Francisco. While you're listening in, you realize a key point that he should make.

You pull out your BlackBerry, go to BlackBerry Messenger and send your partner an instant message: "Todd, you can tie that really well to return on investment." The immediate response is: "Got it. Will do." Message sent and received without the investors being aware, point made, and the conference moves on to your company's advantage.


Or imagine running into heavy traffic on the way to an out-of-town family gathering. You know you'll be late, but you don't know who to call. You use BlackBerry Messenger to contact several relatives at once with an apology and estimated arrival time. "That's OK," your sister messages back. "We're stuck in the same mess. Just keep us posted." Your dad responds with: "We'll just wait for you here at the restaurant."

BlackBerry Messenger gives BlackBerry users a quick, easy way to send instant messages to each other using their PIN codes. It's free and, unlike with e-mail, users can carry on several conversations at the same time. They also can chat with a group, see contacts' availability, send files and track message status.

What are the features of BlackBerry Messenger? How does instant messaging with your BlackBerry work? And, what are the advantages and disadvantages of BlackBerry Messenger? Go to the next page to find out.



Advantages and Disadvantages of BlackBerry Messenger

Eva Longoria
BlackBerry Messengers allows users to communicate remotely and instantly like Eva Longoria.
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BlackBerry Messenger can be a definite asset, if you want to exchange messages with other Blackberry users. With it, you can:

  • Carry on a real-time conversation with friends and colleagues in several different locations -- or carry on several conversations simultaneously.
  • Chat with a group.
  • Send and receive an unlimited number of messages worldwide for free with no per-message charge.
  • Get messages without filling up your inbox.
  • Know whether a buddy is online, available or busy.
  • Let your contacts know your own availability for instant messaging.
  • Manage log-in and contacts as you would if you were using an IM program from your PC.
  • Continue using other programs and send and receive e-mails while BlackBerry Messenger is running.
  • Invite someone to join your buddy list and start communicating without setting up a separate IM account.
  • Be notified by a specific ringtone or vibration setting each time a message arrives from a particular person.

[sources: BlackBerry Connection, BlackBerry Messenger User Guide and CrackBerry]


One disadvantage of BlackBerry Messenger is that you can't send an instant message to someone unless you know his or her PIN code, the eight-digit letter-and-number code assigned to that particular Blackberry device.

However, the biggest disadvantage of BlackBerry Messenger may be that it only allows you to exchange instant messages with other BlackBerry users. Introduced in early 2006 as a feature of BlackBerry Enterprise Server 4.1, BlackBerry Messenger isn't compatible with popular IMing programs. That's because it works differently.

With most instant messaging services, you download software that becomes the client on your computer or smartphone. That client connects to the provider's server, using a proprietary protocol for communication. Once you've logged on, the client sends the server your connection information (IP address), your computer port number and the names of everyone on your contact list.

The server creates a temporary file with connection information for you and your contacts. Then the server determines which contacts are logged on and sends that information to your client, as well as letting the contacts know you're available. After that, the server is no longer involved, and all communication is between your client and that of your message recipient.

With BlackBerry Messenger, however, the server stays involved as it would if you were sending e-mails. All communications go through parent-company Research in Motion's servers as you continue to exchange messages. That also means you can't use BlackBerry Messenger unless you have a BlackBerry Internet plan, or data plan [source: CrackBerry].

Next, let's explore what else you'll need to get started with BlackBerry Messenger and its basic functions.


Getting Started with BlackBerry Messenger

guy on step
BlackBerry Messenger allows users to communicate with others remotely.
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BlackBerry Messenger doesn't require much set-up, particularly as it comes preloaded on newer models. With an older BlackBerry model, you'll have to do a BlackBerry Messenger download. No matter what, here's what you'll need to use BlackBerry Messenger:

  • A Java-based BlackBerry
  • A BlackBerry Internet plan, or data plan, so you can send and receive PIN messages through Research in Motion's servers
  • Your PIN code -- to find it, go to "Options," then "Status" and finally "PIN"
  • Blackberry Messenger software -- if it's not already on your BlackBerry, use your BlackBerry browser or Internet Explorer to go to and download it. If you plan to install the BlackBerry Messenger program via your computer, you need BlackBerry Device Software v 3.6 or higher. If you're installing from your BlackBerry, you'll need BlackBerry Device Software v 3.7 or higher and at least 16 MB of flash memory.

With the software installed, you're ready to log on. The first time, you'll be asked to pick a display name to identify yourself while IMing and to create a password. Once you do that, you'll be logged automatically into BlackBerry Messenger whenever your device is connected to your wireless network. Once you build your contact list, you can send and receive messages.


Adding Contacts

BlackBerry Messenger's contact list shows your individual contacts and contact groups. Before you can IM with someone, you have to invite him to join your contact list and request permission to exchange messages. You can do this with existing contacts in your BlackBerry address book by following these steps:

  1. Bring up the menu for BlackBerry Messenger.
  2. Select "Add a Contact," which'll take you to your address book.
  3. Click on the contact name you want to add, and select "Request."

Contacts who aren't in your BlackBerry address book also need to be added there. Here's how to send those contacts invitations:

  1. Open BlackBerry Messenger and use the trackwheel to go to the Contact List screen.
  2. Click "Add a Contact," which takes you to your address book.
  3. Scroll to the top of the list, and highlight "Use Once."
  4. Click "Request by E-mail or PIN."
  5. Type an e-mail address or PIN code, and press "Enter."
  6. Add a message, and click "OK" twice.

Once the contact accepts your invitation, he'll be added automatically to your contact list. Invitations that contacts send to you will appear on the Contact List screen. To accept a request, select it, click the trackwheel, and then click "Open" and "Accept." To deny the request, use the same process but click "Decline" instead of "Accept."

Sending and Receving Messages

To send an IM, click a contact's name on the Contact List. Then click "Start Conversation" and type your message. Finish by clicking the Enter key.

To join an existing conversation, go to the Contact List and click on a contact in the Existing Conversations list. Then click "Open Conversation."

To add contacts to a conversation or start a conference, click on the trackwheel during a conversation. Then click on "Invite" to invite more contacts to participate.

To end a conversation, click on the trackwheel during the conversation and then click "End Conversation."

Once you've mastered the basics, you're ready to explore more advanced functions of BlackBerry Messenger like managing contacts and groups or setting your availability status and alerts. Let's look next at some functions that make IMing fast and easy.


BlackBerry Messenger Functions

getting started
Getting started with BlackBerry Messengers is easy for BlackBerry users. It simply requires PIN activation.
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With BlackBerry Messenger, it's easy to manage contacts, to indicate your availability, to "ping" a contact and to perform other functions. Here's how some of these work.

Managing Contacts

Perhaps you'd like to use BlackBerry Messenger to see a contact's information. All you need to do is go to the Contact List screen, click on the contact's name, and click "Contact Info."


Or maybe you'd like to remove an individual contact from your contact list. To do so, go to the Contact List screen, and click on the contact's name. After that, click on "Delete Contact" and then "Delete."

Beyond treating your contacts separately, BlackBerry Messenger lets you gather them into groups and then manage those groups. For example:

  • To add a group to the contact list, go to the Contact List screen and click "Add Group." Then type a name and click "OK."
  • To switch a contact from one group to another, click the contact's name on the Contact List and click "Move." Then select a group and click on it.
  • To remove a group, click the group's name on your Contact List. Then click "Delete Group" and "Delete." (Note that you can't remove the default Contacts group.)

Availability Status

Your availability status shows your contacts whether you want to exchange IMs (Available) or not (Unavailable) at any given time. BlackBerry Messenger will automatically change your status in some cases. It'll, for example, show a Busy icon if you're doing something else on your BlackBerry or if you have not responded to a message received in the past two minutes. An Unreachable icon will be shown if you're using the phone or in an area without enough wireless coverage.

But you can also change your own status and leave a message for contacts. To change your status, go to the Contact List screen, and click "Available" or "Unavailable." Type the message you want contacts to see when they IM you, and click "OK." If you choose "Unavailable," you'll still receive messages but you won't be notified when they arrive.

Notifications and Pings

You can use notifications to alert you of an incoming instant message by having your BlackBerry vibrate or emit a tone. You can set and change notifications in your BlackBerry Messenger profile. Go to the Profiles list, click on a profile, and click "Edit." Click on a notification option (like "Messenger -- New Message"), and click "Edit." Set the option you want (like "Vibrate-Tone") and set the desired volume; click the trackwheel, and click "Save."

Beyond your own settings, you can "ping" someone who isn't responding by making their BlackBerry vibrate when you send a message. Just click the trackwheel in BlackBerry Messenger, and click "Ping Contact." If you want to turn off the ping function on your own device, go to the Contact List screen, click "Options" and click on the box before "Clear the Vibrate When Receiving a Ping."

More Functions

Here are a few more functions to try:

  • Press the SYM key twice to see a selection of emoticons that you can use in your instant messages.
  • Select "View Calendar" to access your BlackBerry calendar without leaving BlackBerry Messenger.
  • Try "Copy History" to save a copy of your conversation. Once you hit "End Conversation," your chance to save the conversation is gone.

BlackBerry Messenger can keep you in touch with other BlackBerry users. But what if you want to exchange instant messages with other contacts? We'll look next at what your options are.


Alternative Messaging Options for BlackBerry Devices

yahoo messenger
­BlackBerry users can access other instant messaging programs such as Yahoo Messenger.
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BlackBerry Messenger has you in touch with your BlackBerry-using friends and colleagues, but what about everyone else? You can use other options to IM with them from your BlackBerry. One option is to pick one of the major instant messaging services that provides an application for the Blackberry -- and most of them do. Among these are:

  • Yahoo Messenger
  • Google Talk
  • Windows Live Messenger
  • AOL Instant Messenger
  • ICQ for BlackBerry
  • IBM Lotus Sametime
  • Novell GroupWise Messenger

Each application offers different functions. The advantage is that you can extend an IM service that you already use to your BlackBerry, adding mobile availability and possibly accessing your contact list for that service. To use any of these, you'll need to download the application directly to your BlackBerry -- or to your computer and then install it on your BlackBerry. And you need to check whether the service you want is available through your wireless provider.


The disadvantage of these is that you can only chat with others who use that service. To solve that problem, you can go to a service that offers messaging for multiple providers simultaneously. JiveTalk, EQO and WebMessenger are three that offer BlackBerry service. But they're not all free.

JiveTalk isn't free, but it provides connections to AIM, Yahoo, MSN, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber and MySpace IM. A non-transferable license for one BlackBerry device costs $19.95 and includes free software upgrades. But switch to a new BlackBerry, and you'll need to get another license. A $29.95 user license can be transferred to a new device.

EQO offers free IMing with connections to MSN, AIM, Yahoo!, Google Talk, QQ, ICQ and Jabber. The company also offers -- and charges for -- text messaging and VoIP calling.

WebMessenger is a hosted service that can be used to access AOL, MSN, Yahoo, Google Talk, ICQ and Jabber networks from a BlackBerry or other mobile device. While the company offers a monthly or yearly subscription service, WebMessenger Business-Class Service is free.

More instant messaging options are becoming available for the BlackBerry as technology evolves and IMing becomes a more widely used business tool. For the latest offerings, be sure to check the BlackBerry Web site.

For lots more information on BlackBerry Messenger and related topics, see the helpful links on the next page.