U.S. In-Home IM Usage Hits 41M

Nearly 40% of the active U.S.-based Internet-using population at home logged onto one of the public instant-messaging (IM) networks at least once in the month of May, while 31% of U.S. business ‘Net surfers used IM in that same time frame, according to a new study from Nielsen//NetRatings.

Broken out in numbers of users, more than 41 million consumers used one of the four IM networks — AOL’s AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger — in May, while nearly 12.6 million office workers used instant messaging, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.

In the at-home market, AOL’s Instant Messenger (AIM) took the top spot, attracting more than 22 million unique users. MSN Messenger came in second with nearly 15.7 million Internet users, while Yahoo Messenger was third with 12.4 million. Rounding out the list, ICQ users totaled nearly 4.4 million during the month.

The research firm accurately pointed out that those with the most toys — or in this case, the most users — win, in terms of reaching an audience with marketing messages, content and commerce. AOL and Yahoo are the most aggressive in going after that audience, too. AOL uses space within its client for advertising, and its “AIM Today” window acts in a similar way to the Welcome screen in the AOL proprietary service in offering varied types of content. Yahoo, meantime, has its “Insider” window, which is similar to AOL’s AIM Today. But it also offers specialized “IMVironments,” which essentially offer “skins” to Yahoo Messenger that marketers can buy and customize to reach the Yahoo-based IM audience.

MSN Messenger has one ad space in its client; ICQ offers no advertising.

Of the at-work market, AOL’s AIM came in first at 6.5 million users. MSN Messenger was in second with 5.3 million, and Yahoo Messenger came in third with 3.7 million users. And as in the at-home segment, ICQ was last at work with 1.1 million users.

The enterprise figures did not include any of the IM products designed specifically for the enterprise, most of which incorporate extra security, logging capabilities and other features targeted at businesses, organizations and governments.

Trend Analysis

Data on IM trends is not available from only Nielsen//NetRatings because May marks the first month that the firm examined that segment of the Internet audience, a company spokesperson said. Trend figures will be available in the future, though, as Nielsen//NetRatings plans to continue measuring the IM audience.

A study published late last year by Jupiter Media Metrix provides trend data for the both segments of the IM market. Jupiter Media Metrix reported that the number of unique users of IM applications at work increased by 34% — from 10 million in September 2000 to 13.4 million in September 2001.

The number of unique users of IM apps at home increased 28%, from 42.0 million in September 2000 to 53.8 million in September 2001, Jupiter Media Metrix also said.

While comparing the figures from Nielsen//NetRatings and Jupiter Media Metrix would be like the proverbial apples vs. oranges battle, both studies indicate that IM is quickly reaching critical mass and won’t be going the way of the dodo or CB radio anytime soon.

Interoperability an Issue

In its latest report, Nielsen//NetRatings says traffic stats from MSN Messenger and AOL Instant Messenger represent usage only from a stand-alone application (the AIM and/or MSN Messenger clients), and does not include the use of instant messaging launched from another application (the AOL client, for example).

Nielsen//NetRatings also said that people who use IM generally access multiple IM programs. The most common combination among surfers who use instant messaging is AOL Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger. The research firm accurately points out that compatibility and standards disputes, which have and continue to plague the IM industry, must be ironed out for usage of the platform and development of IM-based applications to flourish — in both the consumer and enterprise ends of the market.

A recent study by Ferris Research doesn’t give much hope to an immediate solution to the interoperability problem. The survey said the IM industry is still 18 to 24 months away from adoption of the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and SIP for Instant Messaging & Presence Leveraging (SIMPLE) standards — two standards that promise to bring interoperability to the IM market.

Bob Woods is the managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.

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