Train your will to embrace instant messaging

I had always preferred IM over email (somewhat surprising for an introvert). I guess efficiency in communication and lack of email’s faults had trumped excessive social aspect.

So why plenty of people resist IM so much?

Email fails

I had never like email:

  • slow, I remember times when it took hours for it to get to destination;
  • unreliable, it is still not uncommon for email to go poof;
  • usually in a form of free but advertisement-packed service.

And so on.

IM fixes

IM is not really much different from email. Just messages going back and forth.

What different is:

  • presence - you don’t send message to an address, you send it to a person who is probably online (which you can actually see as status);
  • it is organized as conversation, not a bunch of separate messages with dozen of Re: on top as in email.

It is more personal, more focused and easier to keep up with.

Getting sidetracked

There is however one giant downside. In instant messaging people tend to do what they want instead of what they need to. It is so very easy to slip into chatting. Compare weather, send a reply to phrase that doesn’t really need one, discuss your cat’s food preferences.

Complaints about IM is productivity killer are confusing tool with how we use it. There is nothing bad about fast and short communication, it is really about using that for killing time.


Reserve your contact list for people you really need to contact, downsize your conversations to serving actual purpose and you will discover that IM can be excellent and efficient tool.

What do you prefer email or IM? Why? Share your opinion in the comments.

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  • Angelo R. #

    I think I personally use IM as my primary means of communication. However, a lot of people I work with tend to prefer email. I feel that it allows people certain amounts of leeway. In the early email days you could send an email and wait days for a reply. Then the person you sent an email to could call you and say that your email never went through, and being the unreliable service that it was at the time, you believed them. Nowadays, even though this is no longer the case, people still find it a useful technique. "Oh I never got your email" "Oh here it is, it was tossed into my spam folder by mistake" It's a great way to avoid people whom you HAVE to talk to, but don't really feel like talking to. IM on the other hand requires immediate response. If someone messages you, chances are you're online, meaning they will be expecting a response. You can't claim you never got their message.
  • Lyndi #

    You have got me thinking this morning. Apart from a bit of playing around with Skype I have never used IM. On my Windows machine I struggle with Skype as it clashes with MS Visual Studio (something to do with port 80). Unfortunately I must have Visual Studio to do my work (the joys of ASP development). Maybe IM is something that I should take a look at. I get lots of mail so anything that could make me more productive in communicating would be welcomed. I would not even know which is the better IM service to have a look at.
  • Rarst #

    @Angelo Yeah, exactly. With email you are sending message to address, you don't know when it get there, when person will get to reading it, when will you get reply. With IM you clearly see when person is on (when he was on last time in some services), which status he has set, etc. I think people who are afraid of being swamped with messages in IM simply don't get that statuses allow to clearly set when and how much you are open to communication. @Lyndi I never used IM as support medium so cannot advise you with that one. In my opinion it could work but would require some additional bits such as collaboration on stuff in question, in your case something to edit code together. As for IM choice curiously it is very geographical question. :) Messengers spread from person to person, so what they use in one country would completely different from another. For worldwide communication there are meta-clients that support multiply protocols in single interface (Pidgin, Digsby). Personally I use ICQ (can also connect to AIM contacts) and Google Talk (fellow techies do have gmail accounts usually). By the way Skype works perfectly fine with VS for me. I don't have web-development components installed, maybe because of that.
  • Lyndi #

    Thanks. I am playing around with Google Talk at the moment, hopefully I can get something going here. This article has reminded me of something else I would like to ask you, I will be making a Skribit suggestion in this regard.
  • Dustin #

    While I agree with you, my use of Google Mail has changed my email perspective completely. It is very responsive and does a good job of organizing my emails into conversations. Instant messaging is often a distraction for me at work because I need long periods of concentration... I'm always telling people just to send me an email. I'm sure IM is better for some people, just not for all.
  • Rarst #

    @Dustin Yeah, conversation style in gmail widely praised as innovation but it is basically mimicking IM. :) On work and distraction - I think another common misconception about IM that it must be always on. Ok, mine is but whenever I am busy I just set "do not disturb" status which mutes incoming messages. I'd say IM is better for some tasks, not people. It is better for fast and relevant conversations. While email is better for thorough and descriptive but not urgent messages.
  • Angelo R. #

    I highly recommend any professional to use a multi-protocol client. When you deal with customers, as Rarst said, you get them from all over the world. While in North America Windows Live Messenger (formerly MSN Messenger) is king, India uses Yahoo. Brazil, from what I've heard from friends, seems to push AOL/ICQ a bit more. And Gtalk is found pretty much everywhere techies live. The beauty of a multi-protocol client is that it lets you connect to everyone from a single program and lets everyone see the exact same information. Granted, when working with someone abroad time differences do come into effect, but more often than not, if you're a hardcore technie, you're up till all hours of the night anyways ;) That might be a good post idea though Rarst, covering different multi-protocol IM clients.
  • Rarst #

    @Angelo I tend to cover what I use and client I use doesn't have English version. Doesn't fit. Last one of popular I tried was Digsby but I got right into moment when ICQ updated protocol and it couldn't connect - fail.
  • Developerholic #

    I definitely agree with you on this one. IM to me feels more real-time than email - fast and reliable ;)
  • Rarst #

    @Meg It's probably hard to compare real reliability (as in amount of messages lost), but it's much more appropriate to ask if other side had got message in IM. While for email it is common to wait at least few days before sending another one.