September 1, 2004

53 Million American Adults are Instant Message Users

Some 42% of online Americans use instant messaging, and 24% of instant messagers say they use IM more frequently than email. This translates to 53 million American adults who instant message and over 12 million who IM more than emailing. On a typical day, 29% of instant messengers—or roughly 15 million American adults—use IM. The new survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project also finds that instant messaging is especially popular among younger adults and technology enthusiasts. 62% of Gen Y Americans (those ages 18-27) report using IM. Within the instant messaging Gen Y age group, 46% report using IM more frequently than email. “It comes as no surprise that instant messaging is especially popular among younger Americans because many more of their peers subscribe to IM programs,” said Eulynn Shiu, a research associate at the Pew Internet Project who co-authored a report on the new findings. “Once one friend becomes available via instant messenger, usage among peers grows dramatically.” IM is more than a tool for chatting. It is also a popular tool for self-expression. Instant messengers take advantage of customizable features such as profiles and icons to enhance their online presence. A third of IM users (34%) have posted a profile for their IM screen name that others can see, and nearly half (45%) post away messages when they are not available to chat. Twenty-one percent of IM-ing Americans instant message at the office; they find it encourages interoffice cooperation and increases work productivity. When asked who they contact most often during IM sessions at work, 40% of at-work IM users reported instant messaging coworkers, 33% reported friends and family, and 21% interact with both groups equally. “There is no doubt that IM use will intensify,” said Amanda Lenhart, research specialist at the Pew Internet Project and co-author of the report. “Younger Americans, in particular, have incorporated IM into their lives in multiple ways, using it to keep track of their friends, coordinate work meetings, and share files. IM use at home and in the workplace will grow as these creative and time-saving uses of the technology percolate through the generations.” July figures on Americans Internet use by the tracking firm comScore Media Metrix show that:

  • AOL Instant Message (the proprietary service to AOL subscribers) was used by 37% of those who traded IMs during the month. On a typical day during the month more than 5.7 million IM-ers were using this application.
  • Yahoo! Messenger was used by 33% of those who traded IMs during the month. This was the single most popular service used at work and the average user of the application spent 423 minutes using the application during the month – the highest total among the applications.
  • AOL Instant Messenger (AIM Service) was used by 31% of those who traded IMs during the month. This application had the greatest reach among college students and on any given day there were nearly 6 million people using the application, making it the most popular application on a typical day.
  • MSN Messenger Applications were used by 25% of those who traded IMs during the month. Some other data highlights from the report:
  • IM users often send instant messages to people in the same location as they are: 24% of IM users say they have IM-ed a person who was in the same location as they were – such as their home, an office, or a classroom.
  • IM users are multi-taskers: 32% of IM users say they do something else on their computer such as browsing the web or playing games virtually every time they are instant messaging and another 29% are doing something else some of the time they are IM-ing. In addition, 20% of IM users say they do something else off their computer such as talk on the phone or watch television virtually every time they are instant messaging and another 30% say they do other things offline at least some of the time they are IM-ing.
  • The IM universe of most users is very modest: 66% of IM users say they regularly IM between one and five people. Only 9% of IM users say they regularly IM more than 10 people.
  • 15% of IM users say they use a wireless device such as a phone or wireless laptop to send and receive IM messages.
  • 17% of IM users use different screen names to contact different groups of friends or colleagues.
  • 51% of IM users say they have received an unsolicited IM from someone they didn’t know. The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a non-profit initiative, fully-funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts to explore the impact of the Internet on children, families, communities, health care, schools, the work place, and civic/political life. The Project is non-partisan and does not advocate for any policy outcomes. For more information, please visit: http://www.pewinternet.org.