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Consumer IM Takes Off

What developed in the late 1990s was a surge in IM proliferation. This allowed instant and direct connection of people across the entire Internet. Consumers (many of whom were kids and teenagers) who began to use the technology to chat with friends drove the initial wave. As IM became more popular, it began to feed on itself, driving “viral marketing,” essentially a phenomenon where the people who have it create more of a need for it (word-of-mouth marketing).

AOL acquired Mirabilis for approximately $287 million in 1998, when the service had expanded to more than 10 million users. Soon thereafter, AOL introduced its own IM platform, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). Adding to the ranks of ICQ and AIM, Microsoft and Yahoo! developed their own IM products. As each of these competing services grew, they did so in virtual isolation. AIM and ICQ would not allow access to their networks from competing services (in fact, to this day, AIM and ICQ—essentially the same service from the same company—are not configured for interoperability). With more than 100 million users of IM worldwide, the Gartner Group predicts that by 2006, IM will be used more often than email as the preferred method of interpersonal messaging.


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