Instant messaging boosts business

A growing number of people are switching on to instant messaging in the workplace - but contrary to expectations, it is primarily used to get the job done

Instant messaging is seen as a valuable business tool rather than a distraction for chatting with friends, according a survey just published.

While 96 percent of people who use instant messaging use it from home, 20 percent of them use it at work as well. Furthermore, the study found that those who do use instant messaging at work use it to get the job done, rather than to waste time talking to "buddies".

"Instant messaging [is] a growing communication tool that is fast becoming a substitute for traditional methods of communication," said Lee Smith, chief operating officer for Internet research company InsightExpress, which conducted the study. "Instant access helps people to do their jobs more efficiently than waiting for someone to call them back on the phone or find their email from a week ago."

The survey found that 47 percent of Internet users have downloaded Instant Messenger software onto their PC, and use it on a regular basis.Thirty-nine percent of employees who use instant messaging in the office said that the application helps to improve their job productivity. Nearly half of all respondents additionally use instant messaging as a replacement for a telephone call, while one third use it in place of sending an email.

The online shopping comparison service Kelkoo is one of many companies using the AOL messaging service to communicate with their international offices. "Three hundred emails a day are hard to cope with -- instant messaging is a good way for people to get in contact instantly, to discuss something or share [Web page] links," said Matt Gibbs, UK product manager for Kelkoo. "It improves the flow of communication, and is far more conversational."

Instant messaging users appear unhindered by the multiple IM services currently available, and tend to register with more than one service. AOL's AIM is the most popular service with 45 percent of users, MSN has 29 percent, Yahoo! has 16 percent and ICQ trails with 6 percent.

The popularity of instant messaging is driven by the quirky features incorporated into the services. Eighty-two percent of the 300 people questioned in the survey favoured the ability to see if a "buddy" is online, and 70 percent liked the feature that shows when a "buddy" signs on or off.

See the Internet News Section for full coverage.

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