Here's To 'All IM, All The Time'

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This publication, like many, pretty much runs on instant messaging. The public IM services from AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft, despite their reputation as security sieves, still serve an incredibly useful purpose. They offer fast and easy near-realtime communication. They're perfect for gleaning a quick quote and for pinging an editor. IM helps savvy VARs keep in touch with suppliers and customers. The amount of time saved on phone tag alone is probably worth actually paying for this capability. (But don't get any ideas, guys.)

In this country, IM is pretty much relegated to desktop and laptop computing devices, but that may change if today's news is any indication.

On Monday, IM granddaddy AOL announced a Mobile Developer Program aimed at entrenching AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) on more portable devices. Early takers include LG Electronics, Motorola and Siemens.

What these vendors get from AOL are UI guidelines, branding stuff, support and access to America Online's Gateway Server, according to a statement. Frankly, I'm amazed that this hasn't happened already.

In related news, AT&T may be dumping its consumer landline business, but it has seen the light on the value of IM. The mother of all Bells on Monday launched a new handheld messaging device that it claims is the first to support all three of the public IM triumvirate. The cutely named Ogo hardware lists for $99 after a $30 rebate. The service then starts at $17.99 per month.

Shoreline Research analyst Tim Scannell says AT&T is offering a fairly inexpensive way to get into text messaging. Ogo, he cautions, in no way competes head to head with Research In Motion's higher-end Blackberry gadgets. Blackberries tend to offer a more interactive experience and provide users with calendaring and scheduling and other perks as well, he said.

In a recent, as-yet-unpublished CRN interview with Barry Appelman, the AOL exec credited for pairing "presence" with buddy lists said he expects a new wave of IM popularity to crest with more IM use over mobile devices in this country.

"The reason you don't have the same adoption rate as e-mail in the U.S. is because of the lack of mobility of IM in the U.S.," said Appelman, senior vice president and CTO of AOL Product Marketing. One reason Short Message Service (SMS) is pervasive in Europe is that it's often driven by economics. ... SMS is often cheaper than a phone call, he said. He expects that as more people on this continent put IM on their phones--an easy feat with the latest AIM client forwarding--the number of IM messages sent will explode.

IM, for all its flaws, is integral to many business operations--with or without IT sanction. A recent survey said millions of corporate users are, in fact, using IM but are less than enthralled with it. One response to that is, at least with IM, you get something that actually works (well, at least most of the time) for zero up-front dough. Compare that with name-brand software that costs an arm and a leg, for which you get system crashes, reboots and security lapses. At least IM is insecure for free.

In related IM news, check out this new Nucleus Research survey that shows just 18 percent of the 50 companies reporting have officially deployed IM--and the price they're paying as a result.

Some folks bark about the pressure of being online all the time. News flash, fellas: That's what the off switch is for!

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