I’ve got a theory about Instant Messaging but in order to fully explore it, I need your help. I’d love to know how and when you use IM. A few questions to get you started:

How many times per day you have a conversation via IM? Do you hardly ever IM? Or do you find yourself having multiple conversations throughout the day? I’m also curious to know if those conversations are trivial or are they something you find integral to your day. Do you talk to friends, family, coworkers?

Anything you can tell me would be of great interest to me. Once I’ve got some feedback I’m going to post the results as well as talk a bit about my IM theory. Thanks in advance!

80 Comments on Instant Messaging — Your Take?

  1. Stephen Caver says:

    Being a student I haven’t yet used IM in a professional environment, and I can see that it may have complications. However, I can tell you that I usually have many conversations when I’m online and I can never get any work done when I’m talking to friends on IM. Because of this I never have it on when I’m working on a project that’s important.

  2. Let’s see. Daily, I think I have about 10 to 15 conversations during 9 to 2, then about 20 or 30 after friends get out of school (2 to 6) and then probably anywhere from 20 to 50 conversations from 6 to 11. I’d say about 50 conversations a day, average.

    So I’d say I use instant messaging more than a landline or a cellphone as for a means of communitication. Business, arranging plans for whatever, talking to friend and family – it’s almost all through instant messaging.

    However, having multiple clients open sucks. Not having the official client means that you can’t take advantage of all the features. But there is no interoperability between the instant messaging networks (at least the big ones) and everyone seems to be on the different networks. I’ve got alot of people to switch over to Google Talk, but they still use MSN and Yahoo as well because that is where their contacts are.

  3. brian w. says:

    Two of my coworkers are offsite, and we use IM to keep up with work stuff. Often it’s just asking a question about a specific project. On the other hand we chat about everything from the weather to technology. I also chat with a few other friends throughout the day about whatever happens to come up. I usually have two or three windows open at a time.

  4. Jeff Smith says:

    The only time I find myself using IM during my workday here at the office is to exchange files with co-workers.

    Any trivial conversations usually wait until after work when I have the time, for the most part.

  5. John Hritz says:

    I try to limit same time, different place communications methods. I like email as a method to keep up with friends until we have a plan underway then I usually switch to phone. I rarely text message, but I’ve been adopting the japanese habit of text’ing first before making personal calls during work hours. I like to avoid interruptions during the work day, so I try to keep that in mind for others. When I’m off, I’m usually not at a computer, so IM doesn’t generally reach me.

  6. Jeff says:

    Several conversations daily. Coworkers, family, and friends.

    Work-related ones are not trivial, they’re work-related and pointed.

    Family and friends: Casual conversation (not “trivial”), just as if we’d taken a short stroll together away from other people and distractions.

  7. Chris Bailey says:

    For the last year or so, my IM use has been about 99% work related, and done on the company I work for’s internal Jabber network. We make extensive use of IM, in part because our teams is dispersed across three or more locations (I work on a couple teams). It is thus nearly all work discussion, occasionally something fun. IM for non-work purposes for me is incredibly rare, email still rules that world for me.

  8. Skip says:

    I rarely, if ever, use IM. This is primarily because the time I spend at the computer is at work and IM isn’t used at work, so the only contacts I would talk to would be personal. Plus, when I do use IM the conversations were usually too much of a distraction and I can’t stay in “flow”.

    At home, I don’t IM because my contacts aren’t usually online at the same time and, frankly speaking, there are just more important things that need doing, even on the computer.

  9. I only use IM when I have a particular need for it, usually related to a specific task. I do not use it for informal discussions or chatting. I make sure I have a specific need when I open an IM client and usually set up a time to have an IM session in advance when I need to use it.

    I rarely have my IM client open.

  10. Fraser says:

    I’ve found the IM is a total black hole of time. If you want to be productive in any way, you need to turn it off. If don’t want to be productive, keep it running, feel free to let it interrupt your work and flow of thoughts.

  11. Sara White says:

    I’m a student, so I only sign onto IM when I’m not studying or working on a paper, because I know that once I do, I’ll be swamped with messages. Usually I have around 3 to 5 conversations going at once, but any more than that and I find that I can’t concentrate enough on each conversation.

    I generally talk to friends (both people that know in real life or those that I’ve met online)or classmates, almost never family members (they’re too computer-illiterate). If someone messages me that I just don’t want to talk to at that time, I’ll just ignore them. And if they annoy me too much, I’ll block them.

    Most of the conversations aren’t exactly trivial, but they’re not really deep either. Mostly they’re similar to a conversation I’d have if a friend phoned me up to talk about their day.

  12. Michelle says:

    I, too, think of IM as a massive time chewing machine!

    I was once highly addicted to the immediate social benefits it provided and I spent countless HOURS engrossed in written conversations on it. Hey! It was a new toy at the time.

    But once people wanted to start b!tchin’ in new screens while still maintaining the original “nicey-nicey” conversation I lost a lot of interest. Besides, I could never handle anymore than two IM’s at once and I couldn’t do anything else while I was on it so as far as productivity goes – it’s a definite no-no.

    There’s still a lot to be said for the good old fashioned telephone. You can “hear” things inside voices and behind spoken words that transcend text everytime.

    Email is marginally better than IM but only when it’s relevant.

    My house and my family will be forever grateful that I gave up IM :D

    Now… if I can just get my 13yo daughter weaned off it! :(

  13. Troy G says:

    I have used IM since the first release of ICQ back in the mid-90’s. Short, casual, and unofficial is the words that come to mind when I want to use IM. I use it so much at work that the company has taken my lead and started teaching all employees to use it as another form of interoffice communication. After using it office for a couple of months now, I have coworkers IMing me that I didn’t even know they could turn on a computer let alone use IM. As a whole the company sees it as another communication tool that is free and usable in our digital workplace.

  14. Sarah B says:

    I pretty much only use IM to communicate with my husband while he is at work. He is on the phone almost all of the day so I can’t ever get him on the phone, but he’s on the computer all day too and always has his IM open. We discuss plans for the day, family life send important messages to each other. He can’t message much so it’s usually pretty limited.

  15. To me IM has all the disadvantages of the telephone (it’s interruptive) with none of the advantages (doesn’t convey nonverbal cues like tone of voice), while also lacking the advantages of e-mail (you can’t take your time to compose your replies). I avoid IM as much as possible.

    What I have been using a lot lately is Skype….

  16. sean says:

    Started with ICQ back in mid-90’s. Went through a period where I wasted much time with it, however I now use it to get instant answers to project questions. It is more insistant than an email, and I like the ability to clarify in real time.

    I use it constantly.

  17. Jeffrey Cox says:

    For me, IM is on all the time and I have 5 – 10 conversations per day. Right now I have to say that it is a real time waster. But, I have hopes for the future.

    Today was a good example. Every time I tried to get started into the “important” projects, someone popped up and IM’ed me. They are good friends and were just “saying hi” to check in with me. I love chatting with them. But, when I was done, a significant amount of time had lapsed and even though I got “smidgens” of work in here and there that significant amount of time did not get spent on the “important.”

    I’m starting to work with developers and team members across the country and around the world. I have hopes that IM will be key to staying in touch with all of these people and keeping things moving forward. We shall see – maybe they to will just pop up and “say hi!” ;-)

  18. Chris Hansen says:

    I use IM throughout the day and night for both personal and business uses.


    I chat with friends and family throughout the day and night when I’m online, which is rather constant. Mostly mundane stuff.


    Our offices are spread out from New York to California with engineering outsourcing to Hong Kong and Shanghai. I use IM to keep in contact with engineers in different offices, especially when debugging common applications. I use IM to confer with the engineers in China, especially since their English verbal skills are not great but their written English skills probably outrank half of the high school students I know.

    I use GAIM as my IM client which supports MSN, Yahoo!, AOL, ICQ and Google Talk (or any Jabber account). It is so blasted stable compared to Trillian or Miranda IM and works fast. It uses more memory than Miranda (but far less buggy) and less than Trillian (and much, MUCH faster than Trillian).

  19. Chris Hansen says:

    Oh, one more point – I use IM to have conversations during development that sometimes last for hours. The phone just doesn’t do it – I’d be making constant phone calls and email just isn’t designed to be a conversational tool. I have a ready history of conversations (something you can’t do with a phone) and I don’t have to wait for 10 minutes for an email and reply to propagate through the networks.

  20. Paul says:

    I was actually introduced to IM through work back in the early 90’s. Since then, I have used it daily at work only. Maybe it’s because I worked on team based projects (video games), but I find it a nice inbetween of the passive nature of email and the intrusive nature of phone calls. Those people that find it distracting usually don’t understand the ability to set “away” status if they’re really into what they’re doing. I also appreciate Yahoo and ICQ’s ability to send offline messages. Now I use it 95% to keep in touch with my former coworkers and quickly send URL’s and code snippets.

  21. Rob Z. says:

    I’d probably like IM more if folks used it for something other than just yapping. I’ve been using it in one for or another since 1997, and I only really use it these days if there’s a truly compelling reason. The only reason I use IM right now is because my wife likes to keep in touch with me during the day, but even most of that is idle chatter that often pulls me away from what I’m focusing on.

    IM is perfectly ideal for quick “pings”. If I have a quick question or want to confirm something with tomeone, I like being able to just shoot off a quickie IM and get back a quickie answer. Conversations, however, are a bear.

    See, most folks have IM lurking in the background and will chat in between other things. So, if someone starts a conversation, inevitably someone will walk away for a few minutes, creating almost unbearable lulls and breaks in the conversation. It requires me to shift gears quite a bit, which leaves my focus on any one thing rather weak. I find that putting up the “Busy” sign doesn’t always help – many folks figure that, while you may be busy, you’re not too busy for them. When you try to explain otherwise, some folks are less than understanding.

    Limiting IM to just my wife and a small, select group of folks has helped considerably. But for anything more than a quick info session, I prefer a phone call – it’s more efficient, it’s WAY more personal, it conveys far more information (many emotions – especially sarcasm – are notoriously difficult to convey in IM, no matter how many smileys you have) and gets you a lot further.

  22. Herme Garcia says:

    our company has sales network in many countries and we use mainly IM to talk, because is easier than voice when talk in english with non-english people, and it’s really better to send numbers, URLs, files, names, phones, data, etc.

    Other advantage is that you can leave and return later (even an hour) without get the other people mad on you.

    We also talk a lot between coworkers, even if it’s close to me, this conversations are normally really quick and left open.

    For not to be interrupted, I normally have all the non-coworker contacts blocked, so they doesn’t know if I am online. I open them for talk on demand, normally setted by email, SMS or phone call. After the conversation, block them again.

    I normally never have more than one conversation at a time (maybe a quick question-response from a coworker) because it’s easy to chat for hours with a person if you don’t concentrate and transmit valuable information, too many “yes”, “ok”, “agree” and short lines.

    If more than one requires to chat at the same time, I set a line!

    That’s all I can remember, I hope is of interest for you!

  23. Allison says:

    I use IM everyday at work (Sametime) and depend on it. Most of my coworkers are in other countries, so it’s easier and cheaper to ping them throughout the day rather than picking up the phone. On a typical day, I probably have conversations with 6-10 people. With my team members, conversations last throughout the day, off and on. With the others, they usually last 5-10 minutes and are done.

    I rarely sign on to Yahoo/MSN/AOL anymore for personal IM’ing. Lately, I prefer email instead because I don’t find it easy to wrap up a personal conversation on IM.

  24. Harmony says:

    I used to use IM (ICQ) years ago, but gave it up because the constant distraction of incoming messages combined with the pavlov’s dog effect of waiting for the next message was just too disruptive to whatever else I was doing at the time. I think the technology is great, but not for me.

  25. Brian says:

    Im in in IM’s all day long. I work remote so it is an easy way to get information quickly when I need to without calling, leaving a message possibly etc. I can send the IM and get a response quickly.

    I also use IM’s with friends throughout the day.

  26. Keith says:

    Thanks to everyone who’s chimed in so far. It’s very interesting to see how you all use IM and to hear your experiences. Keep them coming.

  27. IM is like a flu to this site’s theme, in my opinion. You cannot do anything productive while chatting.

    I have days where I chat with multiple people, and other days where I barely chat, so it varies.

    “Mostly they’re similar to a conversation I’d have if a friend phoned me up to talk about their day.”

    Yep. Most conversations aren’t trivial, but some of my chats can include deep discussions.

    Conversations with intellectual people are most productive in means of learning a lot through ‘deep’ discussions. Conversations you have with people whom you chat with daily are very often not productive.

    IM distracts you and wastes a lot of time in our 24 hour days. Still, I like chatting.

  28. Add my name to the list of people who feel that it’s a technology that provides no benefits that I can think of.

    I actually prefer to call it “Instant Interruption” because that’s what it is. In the office, it’s already hard enough to find a reasonably solid block of time to get into flow on any one task. Why would you want to have something on your desktop popping up and getting into slow paced conversations in IM.

    I’ve noticed that most people who think it’s great are the ones who say, “It’s nice when I have a question, I can just IM somebody and ask them.”

    Of course, for that other person, it’s an interruption that knocks them out of whatever they were doing… That would be too aggravated to me.

    Sometimes when I’m working with somebody who has IM on their machine and we’re trying to debug a problem or work on something together, the little window pops up in the corner, and I see their focus go right there.

    Basically, if you want to have a conversation in realtime, call me. We can talk a lot faster than we can type. If you have something that you simply need to tell me or that doesn’t need an immediate response, email me. Email gets to me in seconds, but I get to decide when I actually want to check it and read and respond.

  29. patRice says:

    I also feel IM can influence productivity negatively.

    I hardly ever open my IM clients (Yahoo & Adium).

    On average, I’d say I have about one IM chat every
    two days. Usually with friends on the other side of
    the planet; and about once every month with a cu-
    stomer in the US.

  30. ryan says:

    I’m more fan of the IRC. I’m always there. I don’t have to answer straight away. If I’m away I can see what people have been talking about etc.

    I’m using it on couple of my projects and at work too. It’s wonderful way of communicating.

    I RARELY use any IM clients.

  31. AK says:

    We use the Sametime instant messenger at work. I decided to aggregate all my clients into one so I switched to GAIM. Now I have a 1 stop program for ICQ, MSN, Y! and Sametime.

    While IM is a great tool and helps me get in touch with my overseas team, it is a huge distraction. I only use it when I need to deperately get in touch with someone (usually for work). I already carry a cellphone, a pager and check my mail every 10 minutes at work. IM is a vice I can do without.

    As far as personal IM’ing goes, I’m one small step from giving that up completely. If someone really needs to get in touch with me, they can call me or better yet come see me in person.

    Also, IM feels terribly impersonal. At least on a phone, someone can judge my mood by the tome of my voice. On IM all anyone has are smileys and ROTLF types.

  32. Gavin van Lelyveld says:

    I use IM to chat to colleagues and friends all the time. Even to people I sit very close to. It sounds like a silly thing to do but sometimes you want to say: “what do you think about this error message “. It makes more sense to do that than stand up and say “I’ve sent you a message in your email will you let me know what you think?”. I think IM is pretty ignorable. If you are busy or in the zone then you don’t have to reply to it right away.

    Also, I’m busy interviewing someone for a position in my company as I type! I’ve also found 2 other employees, and done interviews with them, over IRC. So chatting software is really really useful. It doesn’t replace a final face-to-face, but it is really useful.

    So in summary, Very Important business tool, and great for keeping up with friends :)

  33. Hugh says:

    I’m a bit of a different case as I’m the only person in my department in the UK. I work for a pan-european team as a subdivision of a global project.

    I have five to ten windows open constantly and have constant asynchronous conversations with one or two people at all times.

    IM is primarily used as an attention-getter within the team – you start a conversation with text and then either move up to a call, or sideways to an email.

    Typical IM conversations are something like:

    “you free?”
    “no, I’ll get back to you” (followed by a couple of sentences describing what you want to talk about later, or a note to say “expect an email on this…”
    “yes” (which is then followed by a call on Skype).

    Skype is ideal because it lets you escalate within one interface.

    This has taken a while to evolve, and is now settling into a routine – so that people can work without distraction, while still staying available to people who are not physically present.

  34. misterchris says:

    I never use IM despite flirting with it every couple of months. I find it a tedious tool whereby conversations are just too difficult to maintain.
    If there’s two of you talking you write over each others questions and talk at the same time.
    If there’s multiple people talking you must address each in time and often answer someones question poorly because you just don’t have the time to commit to a full answer.
    Every few months I give IM another go because ‘everyone else does it’. After several frustrating minutes I close the thing down and vow never to go back.

  35. Ed Davis says:

    At the office I never use IM although I am looking at ways that it might allow me to better serve my small business IT Clients.

    At home I use it on occasion to converse with friends. My wife uses it very often to talk to one of her friends, even though we have VOIP and a phone call would be free!

  36. I’m a ‘burst’ IM user. With accounts on several services I rarely IM BUT, when I do, I end up having several conversations in parallel that can go for hours.

    I love the format and would definitely use it a great deal more if I could cajole my non-techie friends into getting in to it.

    Plus, it’s utility in the workplace is wonderful.

  37. cory says:

    my company has employees spread all over the world. we use im frequently to get answers to quick questions, project updates, availability status, etc. basically for anything that requires multiple quick responses, and doesn’t need to be formally documented in an email. i find im to be very helpful – actually invaluable – for my job. it is only a distraction when people ignore my ‘busy’ status (very bad form). i probably have about 10 meaningful work related conversations a day. less frequently i use it to catch up with friends. for this i find the group conversation feature to be most useful.

  38. Silvia says:

    What a topic! It got much more answers than any other! I am sure that this can be useful, as I suggested to my friend whose husband was in Indiaa for months. But they did the same I do, a long email is much consistent for people who used to write letters in the past. As Brian says ” we use IM to keep up with work stuff” I am sure it can be a good tool. I’ve tried it twice, find it too dispersive. I prefer to waste time on the phone.

  39. Jordan says:

    I use Trillian for messaging, and have accounts on AIM, ICQ, MSN, and Y!. I also have Google Talk, but I’ve never used it.

    Because Trillian has the ability to keep you “away” while in conversation, I tend to put myself on “busy/away” for all the services. I really only have it so that people from the hobby group I run online can message me with issues, but the problem is that IM is a complete and TOTAL efficiency buster. I ask that people only message me from my hobby group of they really need something — otherwise I get a deluge of chatter about absolutely nothing.

    In general I may have 1-2 conversations a day, though.

  40. To-Done needs IM impressions

    Instant Messaging — Your Take?
    To-Done is looking for a roundup of opinions on Instant Messaging. My take is it’s a waste of time, 90% of the time. More to come when they come out with their full article.

  41. beth says:

    I have about 5-6 conversations a day. The conversations usually consist of the following:

    Catching up with a friend or family member I don’t see often because of either distance or conflicting schedules

    Checking in at home about errands, daily tasks

    Sharing urls between co-workers for work-related items

  42. beth says:

    Also i forgot, when I’m really in a crunch for time and need to get something done, I turn instant messenger off. I also use trillian, because I find its ad free interface less of a distraction.

  43. Mattias says:

    What I like about IM is the ubiquitousness. For me, someone saying something to me via MSN doesn’t mean that I have to drop everything and get talking, but I know several people who does. Hence, they tend to be logged out when they want to do something most of the time. For me, Internet access in itself is the time stealer, so whenever I want to focus on studying I turn off the Wi-Fi in my laptop.

    Normally, I tell people hello when I want to talk to them for one reason or another. Then again, on occasion, I feel in the mood for a little chit-chat, and I see whoever’s on and try to get some social interaction out of them.

    One friend of mine has two different accounts, one for work and one for home. That way, he can send messages to himself in a context where he can do something with them. I would like to be able to do this too, but not using two accounts. Wow, I managed to turn a comment about my habits into a rant about what IM should be… Shame on me!

  44. chris says:

    I used to IM a LOT. I quit it a year ago and I’m much more productive now. Sometimes I do “chat” via GMail which is kind of like IM.

  45. Mariann says:

    I rarely use chat because I find it too distracting. I prefer the time-delay that using email affords me because I can think my thoughts before committing them to the virtual page.

    I used to have chat open all the time for my students to reach me, but it became cumbersome and frustrating to deal with excessive use of net speak and an overall lack of identity with the other chatter. I mean, there are only so many guesses I can make for CinnamonBrownSexxy instead of JaneyDoe.

    These days, when I do sign onto chat, it’s usually to communicate with my spousal unit about our son. This is preferable to using the cell phone because my hands and mind are free to continue working. :)

  46. Kathy says:

    I use Adium on my PowerBook for chatting.

    I chat a bit with my husband while we are both at work. I work for a K-12 school where we don’t use IM inside the schools, but I’ve worked with companies that do use it and it was very useful for people communicating between buildings. I’m not sure why they didn’t just use the phone, though…lol.

    I also occasionally use it to chat with family and friends who live several states away.

    My mother-in-law has a daily appointment to chat with her mother (85 years old and chats every day!) to keep up with her. They also live several states apart and are unable to see each other often.

  47. Jason Echols says:

    I currently work on a team that consists of members of other teams that are spread out accross the country. We have members in Anaheim, Huntsville, St. Louis and Houston. The chosen mode of communication is intercompany IM.

    There are those moments when IM is not good enough and we have to call. But we communicate alot of information in a short time without even picking up the phone. We also can use IM to send files. So this is also a huge plus.

    On a typical day, I may have as many as 5 IM windows open in which I carry on conversations that stay open ended all day with other team members.

  48. lyndonk says:

    my son is a peace corps volunteer in Bolivia, teaching computer literacy in a rural high school. We maintain contact through IM.

    my wife is a red cross volunteer and has been in Texas, Louisiana and Florida over the last month or so. We maintain contact through IM.

    I telecommute to work three days a week and am able to maintain political and engineering contacts throug IM.

    In short, IM makes my day to day life much more enjoyable and manageable.


  49. Scott says:

    We use IM a lot at one of the offices I work at. The company rents out two small offices in a building. Our phones have a few lines, but no individual extensions, so instead we use IM to let people throughout the offices know when they have a call. It’s incredibly convenient. It’s also nice to be able to ask quick questions, and questions that can be answered by a link or code snip. I feel that it really increases productivity.

  50. Silvia says:

    Just to add two comments: my old aunts and their children (or nephews) who live in different countries use it everyday like Kathy and Lyndonk mentioned.

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