The AOL Buddy List is

by francine Hardaway on June 14, 2002

The AOL Buddy List is going big time. As usual, teenagers started it and the rest of us are catching up. My niece has had a buddy list since she got on the computer five years ago, and she got my brother going. Although somewhat of a Luddite, he still thought it was cool to know when your friends and family were online so you could �chat� in real time. I fought this friends and family chat stuff madly, because I already had an onslaught of email every day that resisted even the most disciplined processing.

But a scant few years later, I have my own list of clients and friends that I IM all day as I sit at the computer doing my business. They include my two daughters in the Bay area and my stepson in Boston, whose wife is expecting a baby, as well as the owner of an interactive agency and a CIO-type. Many of them wouldn�t be caught dead on AOL, so they are using the more �sophisticated� products: MSN Messenger or Yahoo Messenger. None of these Instant Messenger products interchange with or talk to each other, so most people have several accounts.

I know who is online, no matter what product they use, even if I don�t use it myself, because I have a special piece of software on my computer called Trillian, which aggregates all the different IM clients into one integrated list. I know who is online all day, and who checks email once. Because I�m online so much, I often catch the slackers who dial in for an hour while they are deleting their daily doses of spam.

IM gives its users enormous satisfaction, and I think I know why. It gives the writer immediate gratification, a sense of real connection, and nobody uses it for advertising (yet).

Sending an email is like leaving a voicemail or writing a letter: you don�t know when the other person will receive your communication. In some cases, this is good; the asynchronous nature of email was a huge convenience for people who batch process information. These folks could read and respond to all their emails at 3 AM without offending anyone.

But for people like me, who like instantaneous responses, instant messaging is much more fulfilling. You can ask someone a question, and if they are actually online, they will answer immediately. And you can sit on a conference call and simultaneously IM your mother, killing two birds with one stone.

The other neat thing about instant messaging is that it vanishes from your computer. It doesn�t accumulate in your Inbox, like a silent reproach for your inattention, or in your Deleted Items folder, where your boss can find it and accuse you of giving away trade secrets. It�s like knocking on a door and finding someone home — or not. You can just go on to the next house.

Thus, instant messaging has become big in business. It will be part of other tools, including file-sharing and video conferencing, and packaged as collaboration solutions. And collaboration solutions will be the next big productivity advance for the enterprise, much as desktop productivity was.

But there�s a difference between desktop productivity suites and collaboration solutions. Desktop suites made things easier for individuals; collaboration solutions make things easier for groups. This is important because it acknowledges something I first read in a poem by John Donne: �No man is an Islande, entire of itself�� (That would be Meditation XVII)

Apparently, Instant Messaging is being *demanded* of companies by their employees, who have gone around internal systems and are using the common IM clients to pass messages to the guy in the cubicle down the hall, as easily as to the guy at the Pakistan sales office. Much of what is happening in offices thus happens outside the firewalls, the secure access systems, and the other stuff CIOs have spent money on for years. What is more, it doesn�t leave a record or an audit trail.

In marketing, this kind of product acceptance is called �pull� � it is widely used by pharmaceutical companies running ads on TV that say things like �ask your doctor if Celebrex is right for you.� It is the most effective form of marketing there is, and it�s the reason companies also support Palm Pilots and I-Paqs: employees bought them and used them with or without company approval.

�Pull� only happens when you have a product the customer *really* feels he needs. If anyone had remembered that, we would have avoided many of the dot-com failures.



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Articles January 8, 2009 at 7:30 pm

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