It’s striking that while in N. America, instant messaging is very popular, elsewhere short messaging on cellphones (SMS) has been a far more popular alternative. The reasons for SMS dominance have been:
- Everyone’s got a mobile phone and your mobile phone is constantly with you. You spend much less time with your computer
- Very many people know how to use SMS so there’s great connectivity
- Most people haven’t had a permanently on-line connection to the Internet
Things seem to be changing. On January 9, Le Monde reported that instant messaging has become a craze among young people in France, with about about one third of people between 12 and 25 using it. MSN Messenger leads there. The attractions cited are:
- More private than email. People have to be in your address book to see chat
- Easier than typing SMS messages on a 12-key cellphone
- Free, once you’re on DSL, which is now widely available
- Faster and more friendly than email. Eg no typing in addresses or opening emails. Conversations are right in front of you, you don’t have to scroll down or find other related emails
- Webcams enhance the companionship
- You can have chats with lots of people
- You can have a series of concurrent chats
- One doesn’t have to hog a family telephone line
The growth of instant messaging in France will probably be paralleled in most other developed countries that currently prefer SMS.
In addition, it’s worth noting that cellphones will increasingly support instant messaging. Many do today, but the implementations are usually poor and unreliable, largely because of the limited multi-tasking of cellphone operating systems. These operating systems are improving, and as they do, instant messaging will always be at your fingertips.
So over the next five to ten years, instant messaging should usurp the role of SMS on mobile phones.