Home » Uncategorized » Instant Messenger is not just for kids

I was talking with some tech friends recently about instant messengers (IM) and their value to me as a geek, businessman, parent, friend and family member. There was some surprise among the group that this technology is anything more than a communication tool for kids, or another instant interruption in the flow of the workday.

I find all of these apps extremely productive and useful in both business and my personal life. For instance, I have AOL IM (AIM) to keep tabs on my kids and to be more accessible when I am not with them. They use instant messenger to talk to their friends and do homework collaboration projects. One huge benefit of them having IM is the pure fact they stay off our family phone. I know when they get home from school because I see them pop up in AIM. I may actually talk to my parents on AOL IM more than I talk to them on the phone. My mom is actually shocked if she cannot contact me in IM, because that means I am away from my computer. I know…shocking.

I use MSN IM to communicate with some friends and family, but mostly to interact with my tech partners and customers. Yes, customers! I have customers who pay me to contact me via IM. Most of these clients are other developers who have hired White Light Computing for mentoring or testing. It is easy for a developer to pop me an instant message with a quick question, and usually get a quick answer so they can continue doing what they are working on. Same for me if I am testing a module for them, I can inquire about a feature or clarification of a requirement. It does not replace phone conversations, but I can say it is easier to send code examples via IM easier than a phone call. Some times a client will just ask if it is a good time to call. It is an additional way to provide good customer service.

When I was a partner at Geeks and Gurus, the Steves and I used IM extensively. Before we had an office we typically worked at home and our homes are in diverse geographic locations around the city of Detroit. It is a long distance phone call so instant messenger saved us from chewing through our cell minutes. Heck, we instant messaged each other while we were in the office and at no point were we ever 20 feet apart {g}. It was not unusual to find us all online at 11:00 at night discussing some business or technical issue we needed to solve, or just chat about how the Red Wings were doing that night. Very convenient, and very productive.

I have not experienced much of the unsolicited interference I have read about (like SPAM, but an IM, not an email). I have in the past with MSN Instant Messenger, but it has been more than a year since the last “attack”. I have very few individuals on my block lists. I believe it depends on your configuration. I have limited my “profile” on AOL IM, MSN IM, and Skype to only get calls from people on my contact list. I also set it up so people can only find me if they know who I am.

Skype is the newest of the IM technologies I am using. Skype is both a voice and instant messenger built into one. Actually, the latest MSN IM also has voice, but I have not used it. Skype is free (as are the other instant messengers) and offers crystal clear voice communications. I swear the clarity makes it sound like the person is sitting across the table from you. This could revolutionize the way I communicate with people I normally use instant messenger. After all, the biggest drawback of IM is my need to type. Typing is much slower than talking so conversations on IM take longer. On the other hand, typing out something allows you to think longer about what you are saying, so you can often eliminate embarrassing statements before you send them.

There are only two issues I have with three different IM technologies. The first is maintaining three sets of contacts, all which are separate from my email and phone contacts. I know there are tools to combine the different IMs together, but it has not been painful enough for me to pursue. The second is the network gods who lock down the ports used by these technologies. I have a customer who blocks MSN IM so I only have access to Skype and AOL IM via the client tools. I know there is Web access available, which I am going to investigate further. I am onsite three days a week and the lack of access is bad for business.

I hear from others how they find all these technologies disruptive. What people often forget is each of the tools have status settings to inform the people who can interrupt you that you are busy. If I do not want to be interrupted I set the status to busy or offline and get my work done. If I forget to set my status and someone contacts me, I apologize and see if we can schedule something for later. It really can be a controlled accessibility.

If you are interested in joining my “buddy list”, send me an email and we can correspond with the necessary contact details. It does surprise me to see people post them in blogs. I think this opens one up to the hacks and unsolicited interruptions people complain about, but that is just my opinion.

3 Responses to “Instant Messenger is not just for kids”

  1. May 2nd, 2005 at 15:18 | #1

    Agreed 100%. I deal with a few companies – only one of which uses IM extensively but the email glut that it cuts down is incredible.

    But it’s interesting the amount of resistance you encounter from those who aren’t using it. Instead of using IM as the equivalent of a “phone call”, they feel the need to use it as a replacement email or only for emergencies.

    Skype is extensively valuable in this as the phone quality is exceptionally good.

    Still, I wish they would get better video conferencing for multiple parties working – that has always been the weak spot of IM clients.

  2. May 24th, 2005 at 10:59 | #2

    I keep going back and forth on this. I personally like Yahoo Messenger but none of my colleagues or customers use it and I don’t care to maintain or run several IM clients. I tried Trillian (it’s an aggregate IM client) but had some problems with it.

    On the topic of collaboration: have you looked at Groove? I just started using the trial version on a new project where team members are spread across the country. Very nice. http;//www.groove.net

  3. May 24th, 2005 at 11:25 | #3

    Groove is on my list of things to look into Randy. I would definitely be interested in hearing about your experiences with the product.

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