Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

IM? I'm Not. And You?

I realized the other day that it had been several months since I'd exchanged an instant message with anybody.

I have never been the most enthusiastic IMer, but for a while no day was complete without a round of quick notes back and forth over one instant-messaging network or another (usually, AOL's).

Somehow, though, I've fallen out of the habit. It's not for a lack of software; although I haven't gotten around to installing AOL Instant Messenger on the new computer at work, I do have the AOL-compatible, open-source Pidgin installed and set up with my AIM login, along with the account info for my MSN and Yahoo accounts. On my Mac, I've got iChat and the open-source Adium ready to go as well.

But at some point, I stopped having these programs launch automatically when I start up each computer (in the case of the old PC at work, it was because the machine had grown so unmanageably slow). That still leaves Gmail's built-in Google Chat, but many of the the people I correspond with most often on AIM aren't on Gmail. (Facebook's upcoming, browser-based chat feature might get around that obstacle.)

So how have I been taking care of business when e-mail is too slow? SMS. My friends have their cell phones on and in range of a signal far more often than they're logged into AIM or any other instant-messaging network. Phone text messages do cost me, but as long as I stay under the 300-message allotment of the $5 texting add-on to my wireless plan, the added cost of any one message is effectively zero.

But I could very well be in a tiny minority here. What's your use of IM like these days? Have you moved those conversations to other channels, or is AIM or a similar service still part of your daily routine?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 2, 2008; 12:42 PM ET
Categories:  The Web  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: April Foolin'
Next: Photoshop Expressionism


I use IM a lot. I'm hard of hearing and don't use the phone, so I use IM with my mom, with my cousins, my friends from school, even my boss if I don't show up at work. I even use it to make relay phone calls through IP-Relay. I'd love it if more of my friends used text messages, but somehow they don't seem to.

Lately I've been using and their Firefox plug in. It's like Adium but browser based.

Posted by: Saraj | April 2, 2008 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Meebo and Adium are both based on the same back end code as Pidgin (libpurple... yea don't look at me for why they named it that)

Meebo also has iPhone support as well.

Posted by: Jason S | April 2, 2008 1:41 PM | Report abuse

I've essentially abandoned it at home. At work, we have Office Communicator for intra-office communication that gets used on occasion, but we can't communicate outside of the firewall.

Posted by: 23112 | April 2, 2008 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Interesting. I don't IM from work (firewalls) and rarely bother when I'm at home, so I'm really not much of an IM "chatter"; the one exception is when I'm on the road working (about one week in four or five), when I keep iChat up almost constantly, 10-14 hours at a stretch. Recently on those trips I've noticed a distinct dropoff in the number of buddies I routinely see on line. I sort of figured that the Macintosh community (my principal chat partners) had all found another chat client, which I was unaware of due to my general lack of participation. Maybe though folks just aren't chatting much anymore at all. I'll be interested to see what this teases out.

Posted by: John | April 2, 2008 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Gmail's built-in chat allows you to connect to AIM as well as the Google Chat. Which is great.

Posted by: kevin r | April 2, 2008 2:35 PM | Report abuse

GChat allows you to sign on with your AIM name now, so I just use that and do all my chatting from one window. I completely uninstalled AIM from my work computer and am almost never on at home. IM was always too obvious -- gchat is much stealthier and easier to hide if the boss comes in. :)

I use MSN Messenger too, but only for one buddy I talk to overseas. Seems that's a popular program over in Europe.

Posted by: cbr | April 2, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

IM can be quite useful. For instance, I have been in Asia (Cambodia, Vietnam) for the past two weeks. I set up a separate GMail account, so I wouldn't have to worry about security, and had some fun chats with my mother in law while traveling and the kids were sick (Yuck!) I literally made my mother in law get GMail a few months ago, and this really facilitated our communication while away, providing comfort for all. Overall though, I find most people don't seem to care about using IM. People seem to rarely sign into it. Seems to be a communication means that is withering on the vine.

Posted by: Adam | April 2, 2008 2:48 PM | Report abuse

um...Rob...if your IM client is not running, it's pretty much impossible for anyone to IM you. That might explain the decrease in your IM usage...

Having said that, I use IM a lot for work; hardly at all for personal communication. And I _never_ SMS.

Posted by: ged | April 2, 2008 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Aren't IM and SMS just for saying things like "U R Kool". (grin)

Posted by: JohnJ | April 2, 2008 3:10 PM | Report abuse

I merged my AIM account with my Gmail chat too. Weirdly I liked the AIM interface better, but while the boss doesn't care if I login to Gmail in my browser, I don't have authorization to download AIM (or any .exe file, really) and is just a bit too clunky and stripped-down for my taste.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 2, 2008 3:18 PM | Report abuse

We use IBM Sametime at work (very large telephone company). It's gotten to the point that people think you're on vacation if you're not logged into the IM client.

Gmail Chat for personal contacts. If you use AOL, I don't chat with you.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 2, 2008 4:10 PM | Report abuse

I don't IM with many, but I IM frequently with those with whom I do chat.

Adium is great as an account aggregator (I use Pidgin on my linux boxes) and I, too, linked my AOL with Gmail accounts (although noone I chat with now uses AOL...).

The biggest downside of IM is that people see it as something that needs far more immediate responses than email.

Fortunately, the people I IM with now do not have this viewpoint, making it a useful way to drop a line or two, have -- literally -- a quick chat and then "Bye!".

My younger siblings live far away and may not have much to say, but a few quick sentences, whenever, does much to keep us together.

I particularly like Adium with Growl integration: I can, at a glance, see what the message is/was and decide if I need to get out of what I'm doing to answer it right away or if I can treat it as email and get back to it 'ventually. This is quite useful and prevents the chatting from interrupting my workflow.

I like the ability to just send a quick hullo or whatnot throughout the day to my wife. It offers us a more immediate connection than email without the weight of a phone call.

She did nearly lose her temper the other day, however; she was upstairs watching a movie on her macbook and I IM'd her to ask her a question from the kitchen.

"ARE YOU REALLY IMing ME FROM DOWNSTAIRS??" Her disbelief was so great, I grabbed my own lappie, went to sit beside her and IMed her throughout her movie.

As with most tools, it has its uses.

Posted by: Bush -- not related | April 2, 2008 4:41 PM | Report abuse

I use it occasionally, but I prefer e-mail. There is clearly a place for it, between e-mail and a phone call. I like to think of it as a hierarchy.

conference / meeting
phone call
text message
instant message
wiki or message board

There is a place for all of these things. The top of the list is faster but more intrusive.

Posted by: slar | April 2, 2008 4:54 PM | Report abuse

IM combines the forced subliteracy of text messaging with the equipment requirements of e-mail. I never use it.

Posted by: Lindemann | April 2, 2008 5:38 PM | Report abuse

I pretty much stopped using IM on a daily basis when I left my position as a Sys Admin. Now that I'm in consulting, it isn't as necessary.

Posted by: ChesapeakeAdam | April 2, 2008 6:10 PM | Report abuse

IM seems to be going the way of IRC - it's become a media for drama queens and whiners. I rarely bother with IM unless I have something specific to say, and I definitely do not bother with cellphones and SMS (I'm hearing-impaired). There's a point of being TOO interconnected, and you need some privacy, space and time for yourself.

Posted by: Randy | April 2, 2008 10:24 PM | Report abuse

still use IM tons, both for work and personal. Much easier to type on the real keyboard, and Trillan (or Pidgin) make the multiple account problem easy. Most providers also have SMS/IM gateways for people like Rob :)

Posted by: David | April 2, 2008 10:29 PM | Report abuse

Try Digsby (

I was a jaded IMer having nearly abandoned Windows Live Messenger when this marvelous piece of work made an appearance. The interface is amazing - you can link your Hotmail, Yahoo, AIM, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter accounts into one with Digsby. It looks good and works rather well for a beta app.

Check it out.

Posted by: Grant | April 3, 2008 1:21 AM | Report abuse

Try Digsby (

I was a jaded IMer having nearly abandoned Windows Live Messenger when this marvelous piece of work made an appearance. The interface is amazing - you can link your Hotmail, Yahoo, AIM, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter accounts into one with Digsby. It looks good and works rather well for a beta app.

Check it out.

Posted by: Grant | April 3, 2008 1:22 AM | Report abuse

Quite a lot of IM on Messenger for friends in Australia and Europe.

"America OnLine" as a brand just doesn't play as well outside the USA. Hardly anyone uses GMail to chat with me even if they're also on GMail.

Posted by: Mike | April 3, 2008 7:49 AM | Report abuse

Within the company that I work for, IM is used to excess. We have both Microsoft Office Communicator (which I love to call "MOC" whenever possible) and Lotus Sametime. We have two proprietary systems due to mergers and acquisitions.

IM is used constantly throughout the day for quick questions and for taking attendance.

The taking attendance part stems from the fact that one's manager is usually not in your same office and often not is your same time zone!

As for IMs with friends and family, I too have found that I hardly IM anyone any more, but like you I stock-up on IM clients.

I find that Adium on my MBA is particularly stable. I first used Adium to IM with Yahoo Messenger friends when the version of Yahoo Messenger for Mac OS X that I downloaded would immediately crash upon login.

Back on the Windows XP machine that I rarely use since getting the MBA, I have Trillian installed. Trillian is buggy, but was the best that I found in the multi-platform IM client group a few years ago.

Posted by: Jeff G. | April 3, 2008 9:47 AM | Report abuse

I don't like IMs. I find it annoying to be in the middle of something only to be interrupted. For some reason SMS don't disrupt my concentration as much as IMs when I'm at the computer.

Posted by: EL | April 3, 2008 10:28 AM | Report abuse

I have also combined GChat and AIM so that I only have the one window.

I like it to keep in touch with those who don't get cell phone service (where I come from there is very little to no cell phone service) or other friends who are working and aren't allowed to use their cell phones so we chat through GChat.

Otherwise I use my cell phone text-messaging insanely. I probably send about 100-200 text messages a week on average, some times I can approach that in one day. As long as everyone that I'm talking to is on the same network as me, it only costs about $10 a month more for as many text messages as I can hammer out.

SMS is much more convenient for me, it's like a step in-between email and IM. They're short and quick like IM's, but don't require a computer like IM's, and don't require an immediate response like emails. And when we're both available, one of us sends the Quick-Text message "Switch to voice" and we make an actual call when we can.

The people I talk to most, and myself, find SMS far more convenient. It can be quick, messages are all but guaranteed to be short, and can be put off until later very easily by simply saying, "I was busy." or "I was driving."

Posted by: Kevin | April 3, 2008 11:31 AM | Report abuse

I never use IM anymore: it's never been useful in my work (I'm a school administrator), and it's been replaced with family and friends by email and sms. If I have an urgent question, I make a phone call.

Posted by: Jim | April 3, 2008 12:18 PM | Report abuse

I like the AIM-within-Gmail interface--mainly 'cause I have friends/family who use AIM but don't use Gmail. It's especially good for keeping up with younger cousins who are AIM-focused.

I also like it when I travel....I can leave it up, and often have someone to chat with when I'm bored in a hotel room.

Posted by: Annapolis | April 3, 2008 1:05 PM | Report abuse

All the time for international work. Pidgin and live messenger cover all my needs. Also great to send links to folks in.

Posted by: hkk | April 4, 2008 1:29 PM | Report abuse

IM has been an invaluable too for me. The ability to videoconference through iChat has allowed me to teach at one university and still finish my degree at another. I've given and received music lessons remotely and participate in a study group that meets regularly. The ability to talk to, see, and pass files to each other is the only reason I am able to complete my degree and teach at the same time. As far as text-chatting, you can keep it.

Posted by: Arkansas | April 5, 2008 9:30 AM | Report abuse

it's great for keeping in contact with family & friends across the USA. I usually use Trillian for AIM & ICQ.

Posted by: Matt | April 5, 2008 11:55 AM | Report abuse

My husband and I use Google Chat as a kind of walkie-talkie. My office is in the basement and his is two flights above. At our age, chat is easier than running up and down the stairs. We keep the chat private -- don't chat with any others.

Posted by: Sheila | April 6, 2008 8:31 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company