AOL Instant Messaging Back on the Reservation

November 4th, 2002  |  Published in Uncategorized

eWeek reports that AOL enterprise instant messaging is out to the tune of $34 to $40 a seat for starters.

The big features are access control, logging, and auditing.

It’s amazing that it’s taken this long for AOL to get around to going after this market. My own company has an informal AIM roster that gets used a lot. Jabber was trying hard to move on the business market while AOL slept, as well. It raises some questions, though, about the interaction of technology and culture and “why things succeed.” IM has some appeal because it’s more spontaneous than e-mail, feels a little less formal, and because your IM “presence” won’t tend to be used against you by your boss because it’s voluntary. Won’t it be different if your ‘welcome to the company’ IT packet includes information about how to log in to IM the first time? I think it will.

e-mail has the advantage of being a little more asynchronous… you get a mail and, even though there are often ways of knowing whether you’ve read it or not, you can always not read it for a little while. An instant message demands immediate response. Phones, similarly, make no comment on whether you’re there or not if you don’t answer (except the tell-tale “voice mail picks up on the first ring” giveaway). IM says “Oh yeah… he’s been IDLE for x minutes.”

In fact, the more I think about how much I’ve used IM in the last few years as a home worker, the more I realize I participate in it at all because a.) it keeps my phone quiet, b.) I don’t have to, and c.) I’d use it anyhow to keep in touch with friends.

On the plus side of maintaining IM presence, though, are a few things a corporate-managed IM setup will eliminate:

  • Privacy: IM’s a good way for coworkers to talk in a sort of messaging sideband. While a weasel coworker can pass along what you say, you’re more insulated than if you dis someone over corporate e-mail.
  • The personal escape hatch: I’d guess IM is a good way for people behind the corporate cube divider to communicate with the outside world with a marginal but comfortable sense of privacy.

I don’t seek to comment on the “rights” of companies to bring a technology like IM in the fold: of course they have the right. What I’m curious about is if this will be a case of a technology’s broader social overtones being changed by formal uptake, and whether, perhaps, the simple sense that a formerly horizontal technology is now tied up in the hierarchical and vertical world of the corporate communications context will hurt its usefulness in the companies trying to bottle the vibe.

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