In the mid ’90s, early adopters started to rave about – and then get obsessed with – a fantastic new way to communicate. It was like sending a letter, but the letter went from your computer to another one. Email had arrived.
The problem with email, of course, was that whilst you could send your entire letter instantly, you couldn’t guarantee that it was read instantly. It might sit on the recipient’s computer for days, without being read responded to. So whilst email saved the hassle of envelopes and stamps, in many cases the process of communication was no faster.
Although it existed before, around the year 2,000 another form of communication arrived on the scene, called instant messaging (IM). With IM what you were writing was instantly viewed by the recipient, and was instantly responded to. It really was like a conversation that was written down. It was widely tipped to replace e-mail and to become the default way to communicate online. Microsoft’s MSN Messenger was the best known, but there were many alternatives including Skype.
But according to a recent survey, it seems that we Brits have fallen out of love with IM. Back in 2007, 14% of time online was spent on IM. This has now fallen to just 5%. By contrast, email continues to thrive -it represents fully 75% of way we communicate online.
So what’s happened to IM?
Its immediate, its novel, and its straightforward – why don’t we like it anymore?
Here’s a few of my thoughts. To start with, use of IM was usually carried out in our leisure time, and is a social activity. And these days there are so many other interesting social activities we can do online. Aside from Facebook, Twitter, Myspace etc., many websites also have a social and interactive element to them. We’ve only go so much spare time
Next, IM is mainly a one-to-one communication tool. These days communicating online through social media is often more about one-to-many. You want to give someone a message, but you also don’t mind that message being public.
Also, IM has lost its novelty. When new crazes get adopted, it’s often because it’s an exciting new thing to do. After a while the novelty wears off, and we are no longer attracted by the innovation.
And last of all, maybe one weakness of IM is that it is, well, instant. If someone sends you a message on IM, you’re almost obligated to stop what you’re doing and respond to them. Many people like to respond in their own time, and don’t want to be hassled.
Do you use IM? Are you less interested than you used to be? Do you think it will survive as a way to communicate? Leave us a comment below.