Until recently I never got into instant messaging as a way of socializing online, but a couple of weeks ago, my wife and I both downloaded Google Talk. Before I knew it, I was seeing that little conversation box pop up from my system tray during the work day.
"Hello," she types.
"Hi," I type back, and off we go on a virtual conversation.
Now you might not think an electronic conversation with my spouse is a big thrill (especially to folks who have been instant messaging for years), but trust me, when you both work full time, have two active kids and a household to run, it's actually kind of nice to have an uninterrupted conversation, even if it's online. And we have discovered we both enjoy our online chats together where we may discuss our work day, make household arrangements or have some fun with each other.
Instant messaging has been around for years. Teenagers love it because it appeals to their desire for instant gratification. I've heard from friends that their kids spend hours online IMing friends, but it's not just for teenagers to dish the latest gossip. A couple of years ago, I did an article for EContent Magazine on how instant messaging grew from a teen fad to a crucial enterprise communication tool. I remember that vendors at the time had visions of customers spending their day in the IM client conducting all of their business there. That turned out to be more marketing fantasy than anything else, but it does provide an instantaneous method of communication .
But the real the power of instant messaging in the enterprise lies not in the ability to communicate instantly, per se, but around the concept of presence awareness, knowing who is online and available, and providing instant access to them. Presence awareness has all kinds of potential, whether it's accessing a subject matter expert to get an instant answer during an important client phone call or getting a quick answer from the Help Desk, and it's often speedier than a phone call, because you don't have to have a conversation, or an email, because you don't need to wait for a response. What's more, programmers can take advantage of presence awareness information to interact with enterprise information systems and send instant messages when certain conditions are met--for instance, when a stock reaches a certain price.
To some extent, I feel that when I have my instant messaging client open, it provides the outside world a bit too much awareness that I'm out there. In the case of Google Talk, however, my wife is the only other person I know who has it, so it's great for a quick break during the day. I don't mind my wife being aware that I'm out there and reaching out for a quick connection when the mood strikes us. I might not want just anyone to have this power, but so far at least, we've both found we've really enjoyed our online chats and discovering the joys of IM-ing together.