Study: IM At Work More Popular Than Ever

Will instant messaging (IM) surpass the phone and e-mail as the primary communication vehicle of business? One thing’s for sure: IM usage at work is more popular than ever and is growing at a very fast pace.

A new study from research firm Jupiter Media Metrix shows that the total time that people at work used publicly available IM products from America Online, Microsoft’s MSN and Yahoo! jumped 110% in one year, from 2.3 billion minutes in September 2000 to 4.9 billion in September 2001.

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For more information on enterprise instant messaging, visit InstantMessagingPlanet, an site.

What’s more, the number of unique users of instant-messaging applications at work increased by 34% in the same time frame — from 10 million in September 2000 to 13.4 million in September 2001.

“While the adoption rate of instant-messaging continues to outpace that of the Internet, the time spent using the applications demonstrates even more profoundly the significant role instant-messaging plays online,” said Charles Buchwalter, vice president, media research, Jupiter Media Metrix. “We first noticed the explosive popularity of messaging in the home environment, but workplace usage is following a similar trajectory.”

At work, AOL’s various services -the AOL Messenger used in conjunction with its proprietary online service, the standalone AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and ICQ Chat application- are number one in usage, but a distant third in terms of growth. AOL had 8.8 million unique users in September 2001, up 17% from September 2000. MSN had 4.8 million users, up 88%; Yahoo had 3.4 million users, up 83%.

When the three AOL services are split out, though, it appears that at-work users are focusing more on the company’s free-standing services. From September 2000 to September 2001, at-work usage of the AOL proprietary messenger dropped 3%, while use of the AIM increased 35%. The total number of AIM users is more than double those of the AOL online service (6.1 million versus 2.9 million, respectively), Jupiter also found.

Meanwhile, ICQ Chat use rose by 9%, but is in last place among AOL’s three IM-related products.

For much of the at-work crowd, there’s not any real loyalty to one network. Twenty-three% of IM users used at least two competing brands, up from 18% in September 2000. The%age of AOL users that used a competing brand at work in September 2001 was 30%; 44% for MSN; and 59% for Yahoo.

Jupiter did not study any of the IM products designed specifically for the enterprise, most of which incorporate extra security, logging capabilities and other features.

Meanwhile, the total minutes spent using instant-messaging applications at home in the U.S. increased 48%, from 9.2 billion in September 2000 to 13.6 billion in September 2001. And the number of unique users of instant-messaging applications at home increased 28%, from 42.0 million in September 2000 to 53.8 million in September 2001, Jupiter Media Metrix said.

AOL is still king at home, the research company also said. AOL, through its three services, remains the leading brand among instant-messenger services at home with 41.7 million unique users in September 2001, up 21% from September 2000.

As with the at-work crowd, though, MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger are the fastest growing applications, with MSN increasing 94%, from 9.6 million users in September 2000 to 18.5 million in September 2001; and Yahoo up by 25%, from 9.5 million users to 11.9 million over the same period.

“Instant messaging demonstrates the power of a network effect, where the value of the network grows as its membership increases,” said David Card, vice president and senior analyst, Jupiter Research. “But as AOL continues to block competing messaging technologies, users are taking things into their own hands by using multiple services.”

Another site CyberAtlas reports that instant messenger users should not expect to see interoperability in the near future. According to a report by Ferris Research, the instant messaging industry is still 18 to 24 months away from adoption of the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and SIP for Instant Messaging & Presence Leveraging (SIMPLE) standards.

“The tens of millions of devotees of instant messaging should not expect needed interoperability standards for 18 to 24 months,” said David Ferris, founder and president of Ferris Research. But interoperability between corporate IM services and consumer IM services may only be six to 12 months away, Ferris said, because it is easier to negotiate business relationships between vendors of corporate IM products and consumer IM networks. This could provide an even bigger boost to instant messaging at work because it would allow those using the AOL, MSN and Yahoo! systems to interact with employees on company’s private or proprietary systems.

When it comes to the future of instant messaging, Card sees value in Buddy Lists and presence management. “The value of AOL’s IM community can’t be measured simply by marketing opportunities or technology adoption,” he said. “What everyone’s fighting for is a shot at using Buddy Lists and presence management as the hub of future cross-media communications services.”

Approximately 60,000 individuals throughout the U.S. participated in the Media Metrix sample, company officials added.

Bob Woods is the managing editor of,, where this story first appeared.