I haven’t been a fan of instant messaging, but many of my co-workers swear by it. I just don’t like constant interruptions when I am thinking, writing, researching or working on anything for that matter. I’m considering using MSN instant messenger with my new Suunto watch, but I still haven’t decided if I want to be that reachable.
I did track ICQ (the first instant messaging client) in the early days of the internet because of its meteoric adoption rates. In June 1998 when AOL acquired ICQ for $287 million in cash (from 4 Israeli developers) the company had no revenue but 12 million people had downloaded its “I Seek You” instant messaging client. (Kind of reminds me of Skype!) I remember being amazed at how the site was functional and utilitarian and visual design was the least of the concerns of the ICQ development team. This company and its extraordinary valuation helped persuade me that web site utility and functionality was FAR more important than visual site design. Check out what ICQ looked like in 1998 and 1999. (If you ever want to create a viral application, you better study these early sites using the Way Back Machine.)
Today AOL announced ICQ Lite which according to Bambi Francisco is designed for advertising and media company partners. In her column on CBS Marketwatch, Bambi explained that “the new ICQ client allows advertising partners, like online dating service Lavalife, to create their own IM services on top of ICQ.”
And last month AOL launched ICQ Universe as another social networking option. Now ICQ users have the ability to map out their universe of friends or buddies through an animated interface. The user’s photo or animation is in the middle with images of friends, family members and co-workers circled about them. When you click on one of your contacts, you then see their Universe view, with the people they know scattered about them.
I suppose AOL feels the need to jump on the social networking bandwagon using the ICQ asset, but I’m not sure this will revitalize their IM usage or not in the face of fierce competition from Yahoo and MSN.
“In March 2003, AIM had 31.9 million unique users while ICQ had 28.3 million, according to ComScore Media Metrix. MSN Messenger reached 23.1 million unique users while Yahoo Messenger reached 19 million. Both Microsoft and Yahoo launched IM clients with virtually zero market share.”
I am personally more interested in seeing the professional social networking services in integrating message boards, blogs and perhaps even instant messaging into their referral systems. To me, the business value of social networking is in the aggregation of highly reputable people and the system of trust.
The other question that comes to mind for me as I contemplate the IM landscape is this:
After Google launches gmail.com with its 1 GB of email space and powerful search engine, and they begin to dramatically cut into the market share of other email providers (namely, MSN, Yahoo and AOL), will Google figure out a 10x improvement on instant messaging and launch its own instant messaging client? Will the brilliant folks at Google figure out how to incorporate search tools or document management into IM and make it far more valuable for business users like me. I predict that if Google ever does IM, it will be the first IM client that I love and use.