Is IM dead?

Recent BBC article has an insight on Instant Messaging usage. By some reports the usage of IM dropped from 14% to 5% in UK in the last 3 years and the prediction is that IM will be replaced by other ways of communication. The question is what they really measured. A decade ago IM services like ICQ, AIM, MSN flourished as they presented a novel (instant) way of communication – it was fast and free in a dial-up era (not counting phone bills) and remained popular for a few years. IM has several advantages over the email and we could hear predictions that it will replace email in years to come! But nothing similar happened. Let’s take a closer look at some basic characteristics:

IM  Email
instant (synchronous) communication yes

maybe (to some extent if both parties are replying quickly, but reply always creates a new message so the conversation becomes fragmented)

asynchronous communication yes (to some extent)
see contacts’ online status yes

So is IM really that advantageous over email? Slowly IMs allowed us to send files, send messages to people that were
offline and got bundled with voice and video conversations as well. So
now IMs have what email doesn’t. But what seams to be the biggest advantage (instantness) can be a disadvantage as well. It presents interruptions to work flow if new conversations keep coming in (see previous post).

But both IM and email have some advantages over the phone: the answer can be prepared, our emotions can’t be seen by others, history of conversation is saved and more than one conversation can take place at the same time.

Returning to our title: is IM dead? No! As with many communication tools it will find its place. Each communication tool has some advantages that can be used in certain situations. There were predictions that analogue land-line phones will be buried (ISDN tried to took over few years ago and IP phones are replacing them now, but all technologies are still around), that IRC will vanish, that SMS will be replaced with MMS, email is dead, amateur radio will be extinct, that Morse code will be forgotten (scouts are still using it), and pigeons as well (still used in sports) not to mention telegraphy or even mail … A week ago newsgroups were dead again!

What is happening? Buzz just moved somewhere else. In 90’s everyone I knew online was using IRC. A decade ago everyone was sending spam over the email with "funny" jokes, videos, images … (I’m so glad those days are gone). Then IM came along and some of the conversation shifted to it. Later on social networks were introduced and some conversation moved there. But IM is a part of social networking sites now, it is also used in online video games and in several other ways (IM clients even moved to mobile phones as did social networking sites!!). So is it really dead or it just got integrated into other tools? I bet that IM is used a lot on Facebook! But I don’t have figures to prove it.

I use email, IRC, IM (MSN, Skype, ICQ, AIM, Google Talk), VoIP, mobile phone and MMS, SMSs, web sites (forums, blogs, photo collections) and mail as well. It depends on who I want to communicate to, available technology at that time, the other person’s (or persons’) availability and his (or their) technology availability, the cost of a conversation and information (amount, format) I need to communicate. And communication tools even help me shift to other communication means (I often IM invitation to a coffee and continue a live conversation there, call someone to send me an email or to invite to a cheaper mean like VoIP, SMS invitation to an online video conference …).

So what will be next? Where will buzz move from social networks and how many communication tools will we use in the future? What’s in there for us and our personal information management? Time will tell. But I would like to see some integration of all the above which would make management easier.