Instant messaging at work jumps 110 percent

Business users are warming up to instant messaging over the Internet, catching up with the explosive growth the service has enjoyed among home users, according to a new study.

Among the three leading brands of instant messenger -- America Online Inc.'s AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Messenger, and Yahoo Inc.'s Yahoo Messenger -- business use was up 110 percent in the U.S. over the past year, from 2.3 billion minutes in September 2000, to 4.9 billion minutes in September 2001, research firm Jupiter Media Metrix Inc. said in a statement Wednesday.

In the workplace, 13.4 million unique users were counted this September, up 34 percent from 10 million users during the same month a year earlier.

"A lot of companies will expect most of their staff to have either AOL or MSN, so they can communicate with colleagues," said Jupiter analyst Dan Stevenson. "But then, equally, people are using them for communicating with friends, either other friends in the office, or outside."

Many office users install more than one instant messenger to get around the fact that, so far, the leading services are not compatible, Stevenson said. Ironically, AOL's refusal to cooperate with its arch rival Microsoft is driving growth among competitors, he said.

"(AOL is) continuing to block competing messaging technology, so they're holding back the market that way. They're giving the initiative to users to download and use the other services."

Despite the rapid growth, business users are still far outnumbered by home instant-messaging enthusiasts, according to the Jupiter figures. Home users increased 28 percent, from 42 million in September 2000 to 53.8 million in September 2001, and spent a total of 13.6 billion minutes using the service the month before last, a jump of 48 percent from the 9.2 billion minutes logged in September 2000.

In the workplace, as at home, AIM is the leading instant-messaging brand, but its competitors are gaining ground, Jupiter reported. AOL had 8.8 million unique business users in September 2001, up 17 percent over the year; MSN had 4.8 million users, up 88 percent; and Yahoo had 3.4 million users, up 83 percent.

But AIM's workplace users are racking up faster growth in terms of minutes spent using the service. AIM was used for 3.6 billion minutes in September 2001, a jump of 149 percent from September 2000. Yahoo messenger usage grew only 60 percent over the period, to 603 million minutes; and MSN gained a mere 32 percent, to 651 million minutes.

In contrast to the AOL-dominated U.S., in Europe MSN Messenger is the leading service, with 10.3 million unique home users in October 2001, more than three times the 3.4 million who used the service in December 2000, Jupiter said in a separate study which did not count business users.

In second place in Europe is the ICQ instant messenger, also owned by AOL, with 4.3 million users last month, up from 2.2 million in December. AIM came in third with 2.5 million users in October, nearly double the 1.3 million it had in December. Yahoo was a close fourth, counting 2.3 million European home users in October, a sharp increase from 874,000 last December.

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Rick Perera

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