The use of instant messaging in the US, for both work and play, is up 19 percent over last year, according to an Instant Messaging Trends survey released last week by America Online, which makes AOL Instant Messenger software.
In fact, many Americans are now sending more IMs than emails.
"IM has become a truly mainstream phenomenon," said Chamath Palihapitiya, vice president and general manager for AIM and ICQ at America Online. "Before, I think there was the thought that it was only college or high school students that used this, but now it's really something that is used by anyone of all ages. IM's something that not only helps you communicate socially but also makes your work life efficient. It's something that helps you increase your productivity every day in the office. So from our perspective, it's always something we wanted to do - extend beyond being a social application to also being a productivity tool. And this year the survey really confirmed for us that we've done that."
In addition, an increasing number of people rely on mobile instant messaging, which points to the fact that people are looking to go online beyond using it only on the desktop, Palihapitiya said. "They feel the connectivity is important and they want their buddy list to still reach them," he said.
According to the survey:
- Fifty-eight percent of at-work instant messaging users now send IMs to communicate with colleagues, while 49 percent use IMs to get answers and make business decisions and 28 percent use it to interact with clients or customers. Twelve percent of at-work IM users have used it to avoid a difficult in-person conversation.
- Twenty percent say they currently enjoy, or would like to try, making live voice calls to other computers, landlines and cell phones directly from their IM service. Another 12 percent say they would be interested in an IM-based VoIP (voice-over-IP) service that could replace their primary household phone line.
- In Seattle, 47 percent of at-work IM users are most likely to say things in an instant message that they wouldn't document in an email message.
- More than three in four at-work IM users, 77 percent, said that instant messaging has had a positive impact on their work lives. In addition, 25 percent of at-work IMers say that instant messaging enables them to check in on their children during the workday, providing them with greater peace of mind.
Among those who use instant messaging for business purposes, 13 percent say they have their IM screen name printed on their business cards, while 6 percent say they write it on the business cards they exchange.
"Instant messaging is a part of everyday life, with more and more people using their IM service as a starting point for all communications, from sending mobile messages to friends on cell phones to placing VoIP-based phone calls," Palihapitiya said in the statement.