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Is E-mail Old School. . .

. . . or are IM users still in school? AOL today released the results of its annual Instant Messaging Trends Survey which reported a significant spike in IM usage over last year.

At first blush AOL's survey, conducted by independent researcher Opinion Research Corp. and based on responses from more than 4,000 Internet users in the 20 largest U.S. markets, would seem to fly in the face of comments I made in an earlier blog entry about my fear that IM usage would fall off among the teenage population unless steps were taken to quickly eliminate the spim, phishing and other malware attacks that are now plaguing IM networks.

I based that on my own anecdotal evidence of watching how the teens in my life had cut back on e-mail in favor of IM and were now enthralled with SMS messaging on their cell phones. Well, the AOL survey seems to back up the first part of that observation, noting that 66 percent of teens and young adults (ages 13-21) now send more IMs than e-mails, up from 49 percent last year.The survey also noted that Mobile IM is also catching on with 33 percent of IM users saying they also send messages from their cell phones at least once a week, a nice jump from 19 percent last year. But "once a week?" Take a look at how teens use their cell phones and you'll se that they are text messaging a dozen or more times daily. It's THE thing to do these days on cell phones.

These teens and young adults continue to represent the biggest market for IM, but I still think it could wane quickly if the threats like the recent phishing attack on Yahoo continue to mount.

We all know that coolness counts for the younger age groups and one thing that could sustain the teen market for the time being is new multimedia capabilities. In the AOL survey, 26 percent of IM users say they want live streaming television on their IM service. Twenty-five percent wished for music on demand and 21 percent wanted video on demand. Meanwhile, 20 percent said they currently enjoy, or would like to try, making live voice calls to other computers.

We do know that the teens and young adults currently make use of more of their extra features when using IM. The AOL survey found that 47 percent of those ages 13-21 change their away messages every day, to let others know where they are, the same percentage that also like to post a favorite lyric or quote every day.

On the lighter side, AOL came up with some off-beat awards like the "An Affair to Forget" award given to IM users in New York where they are most likely to maintain multiple screen names to avoid an ex or a bad date (20 percent). And then there is the "The Off the Record" award, which goes to Seattle, where at-work IM users are most likely to say things in an instant message that they wouldn’t document in an e-mail message (47 percent). I wonder if they know that IMs are considered records for compliance purposes, just like e-mail. I also wonder if the Seattle market extends to Redmond!