Josh's INET independent study, Spring 2006

My semester-long journal guiding all my readers through the independent study I am doing as part of the Internet Studies minor with Professor Hickey at Brandeis.

Location: Waltham, Massachusetts, United States

April 03, 2006

Another Article...

Workplace IM Showing Growth

This article is quite similar to the last one in that it gives some statistics related to IMing in the workplace. The prediction is also that, as the current IM generation (Generation Y) moves on into the workforce, IMs wil become an increasingly used method of communication at the office.

Apprently 62% of 18-27 year old online Americans use IM, while just 37% of those between the ages of 28 and 39 do. Although we will have to wait and see how the numbers wind up several years from now, it is extremely likely, as these articles predict, that this younger generation will cause IM technology to be prevalent throughout the workforce and corporate America.

Once companies become more comfortable with the increasingly more secure IM technology, that will also provide more reason to believe that IM will be more popular among workplaces everywhere. Management will realize that IM is a tool that promotes greater productivity (as opposed to slacking off) and worker satisfaction.

Predictions about IMs at Work in the Future

IM Transforming

This article discusses the main uses of IMing: the basics, the social aspect of it, using it at work, and the future potential of instant messenger programs (such as AIM). Similar to other articles I have posted on this blog, this one says that most workers have positive reactions regarding IMing at work, but there are those few who believe IM has a negative effect at the workplace when it comes to teamwork.

One aspect of this article that I found interesting is how it related the usage of IM in the workplace to the way college students (like myself) use IM. According to the article, 75% of college students use IM in general, for whatever reason. The author continues to go on to say that as current college students of this IM generation gradually enter the workforce, they will bring their instant messages with them, and IM use at work will drastically increase. One researcher noted, "I would expect that IM use will grow within the workplace. As younger users age and move into management and positions of greater responsibility, they'll take their tools and comforts with them, one of which is instant messaging."

Another interesting point brought up about IM at work is that tech support can greatly benefit from it. Support personnel may be more efficient if they use IM than if they used a telephone since they can help multiple people at once as opposed to working with one person at a time on the phone.

The article's prediction is that instant messenger programs will continue to impact our increasingly digital society in a positive way. The one drawback it mentions about IM is the security issues (I have mentioned them in previous posts). As IM services develop tighter security though, use of instant messaging at work is predicted to increase significantly.

Some more statistics...

Instant Messaging: The IM Revolution

I found a website that gave some basic IM statistics within many different categories. Based on my research thus far, I will just post the stats regarding IMing in the workplace:
  • 27% of all users use IM at work

  • One-third of college graduates who use IM, use it at work

  • One-quarter of daily IM users log in from work

  • 55% of work users felt that IM contributed to improved teamwork

    • Only 4% felt it had a negative effect to teamwork

  • 50% of work users felt that IM saves time on work tasks

Again, many people believe that Instant Messaging benefits workers in that it speeds up productivity and saves crucial time. At the same time, there is always that small percentage who believe that IMing is detrimental to productivity in the workplace.

April 02, 2006

Statistics of IMing at Work (in the UK!)

The State of IM at Work

Similar to the article discussed in the last post, this one begins by stating that companies and their managers are not prepared for the legal and security problems that can be caused by the use of IMs, especially at work. While this article in particular focuses on IM usage within the United Kingdom, the content remains accurate for the US as well. The majority of organizations in the UK are unprepared when it comes to dealing with the potential security and management issues associated with the increase in IM use at the workplace.

Everyone knows the benefits of IMing at work: improving productivity, increasing the speed of decision making, and increasing the efficiency of communication in the workplace. It is true that most IMs at work are constructive. However, 3% of work IMs are inappropriate and potentially damaging to businesses. According to the article, IM "should be embraced, but protect your business adequately or the consequences could be severe."

The end of the article reveals some IM statistics that I found interesting as well:

-25% of IM users say they used the technology to say something the boss would not approve of.
-16% admit to using IM to send or receive sensitive company information or documents.
- 25% say they use IM to gossip about colleagues.
- 7 % of workers under 29 use IM to communicate with potential new employers while still at work.
- 25% of younger workers use IM to download music or movies at work.
- 45% of younger workers use IM to send pictures while at work.

Clearly, there is still a decent amount of people who use IM for non-work related issues while at the workplace. Once companies begin to manage how they allow their employees to use IM, perhaps these percentages will decrease.

IM Etiquette at Work

Office Netiquette: Instant Messaging

This article is actually on the website. They seem to know a thing or two about jobs and life within the workplace. Accroding to Beverly West, the author of the article, IM will eventually replace e-mail as a corporate communication tool. While that is the prediction, it is known that IMs at work give employees an opportunity to waste time on personal conversations. From the company's perspective, IM technology is mostly insecure and leaves company networks open to viruses and hackers. Although these are some issues that need to be thought about when it comes to IM use at work, many companies have been very slow to develop policies regarding IM usage.

The purpose of the article is to give advice regarding the proper ways to use IM in the workplace since not many companies have a set policy in place yet. The first piece of advice is to make IM use as least distracting as possible by using away messages so that people will know your status at work. Rather than responding to each distracting IM that pops up, the custom automated message will be sent to the other person.

Another useful tidbit is to restrict IM conversations to relevant information while at work. Since IM chats can become fairly personal in a hurry, it is a good idea to keep things professional. Along those same lines, one should avoid discussing confidential information via IMs. Employees must always be aware that they are using an unsecured line and it is easy for other people to hack into conversations and read them if they chat over IM, and as a result should not let conversations be too personal.

If there are company guidelines in place regarding IM usage, make sure to abide by them! Make sure to know the policy prior to using IM in the workplace. While most large companies do understand that IMing is a great interoffice communication tool, if there is no policy in place there (yet), just use common sense and don't try to test the waters.

March 30, 2006

How Distracting are IMs?

Instant Messaging: Effects of Relevance and Timing

The purpose of this article is to determine just how distracting IMs can be to someone who is trying to accomplish various tasks on the computer. After reviewing the main benefits of IMing (seeing when personal contacts are available, instantaneous communication, and being capable of holding multiple conversations at once), the article focuses on a study of certain people's reactions to IM disruptions.

The first experiment was to show at which point in a task people are the most disrupted. During this experiment, participants were given the task of looking at stock prices and deciding if/when to sell the stocks. The only catch was that they would receive IMs randomly throughout this task, either while beginning the task, accessing tools, or manipulating the content of their files. In the end, the results showed that people were faster at disengaging from the task at hand when the IM came during its early stages rather than during the intermediate and finishing stages. It was found that once a task had been started, it then required a lot more focus and the people were not going to let an IM distract them.

The second experiment was similar. It involved people trying to accomplish some computer task that included three phases: planning, execution, and evaluation. The IMs that would eventually pop up on their screens were either relevant or irrelevant to the task at hand and could appear during any of those afforementioned phases. What became evident as a result of this experiment was that the irrelevant IMs took people longer to process, and therefore made it harder for the workers to get back to their original task after the interruption occurred.

The results of the second experiment support those from the first one. If a worker is to have an IM (or more than one) sent to him while working, it will be more disruptive if it is at the very beginning of the task because he/she will not yet be fully engaged in it. While it was found that receiving IMs relevant to work are less distracting, the experiments still revealed that people will most likely end up ignoring irrelevant IMs when they are in the middle of an assignment, which I suppose is good news for most companies out there.

March 22, 2006

Privacy Concerns

Instant Messaging and Privacy

This content of this article is based on a study of various people from a multitude of backgrounds. The study is about IM privacy with regards to non-contacts (someone whose screen name you don't know), availability, and content. Most of the participants in this study were not too concerned with privacy when using IM, realizing that there is not much privacy online in the first place. The only person to have a public profile when online was the participant that is a college student. This could be the case merely because most college kids want to socialize and "advertise themselves", as the article states. Most people are extremely careful about who they add to their list of contacts because the privacy barriers greatly differ depending on whether or not you actually know the person.

Regarding availability at work, most subjects try to seem as available as possible to their co-workers in order to collaborate on team projects. Additionally, they pay more attention to the availability of fellow co-workers on their contact list (or buddy list, on AIM). In order to help people see one's availability at work, one can put up a status indicator, such as an away message.

People typically include friends and family on their contact lists at work, and, while their attention is focused on work-related issues, there are occassional side conversations with friends and family going on as well, usually serving as a break at work. Home is typically brought into the workplace rather than the opposite. At home, most people don't want to be in contact with co-workers since they do not want work to invade their personal lives. The downside of having co-workers on a contact list at work is that most people do not want to have their bosses and supervisors on this list. People would prefer if their bosses do not always know the extent of their availability while at work (or home, too).

The subjects also realized that IM conversations at work can be monitored by administrators, saved by the other person involved, or forwarded to a third party. However, there is a general reasonable expectation that conversations will only be read by the intended recipient. As a result of the fear in the back of their minds, most workers try to avoid saying anything in an IM conversation that could be detrimental to them in the future. In general, for very in-depth important conversations, people still resort to either using the phone or meeting face-to-face to have a conversation. IM can be come across as being extremely impersonal. The other fear that some people seem to have is that others may take a glance at their screen and secretly read parts of conversations. At work, people tend to minimize the IM windows when they see that a co-worker is walking by.

Since many people are concerned with how they appear to others, the article suggests that IM systems allow their users to manage the impression they project through IMs to various groups of people. There should be separate profiles for students, managers, and home users, fo instance. If someone puts his phone number in his profile, he should be able to choose who has access to that information. People need to know what information about themselves others can access.

March 14, 2006

Group Chat at Work

What Is Chat Doing in the Workplace?

This article mostly discusses the concept of group chatting, such as chat rooms, within a work setting. The research is based on a study of how six global work groups functioned over a 17 month span. The reason behind this article is that chatting through a computer has become increasingly more prevalent at work, especially for global companies. E-mail is no longer the best method of communication, even between extremely long distances around the world. Most people prefer "real time" communication to e-mail now: "On the heels of tremendous popularity among recreational users, synchronous messaging applications are beginning to show up at work," says the article.

Since a one-on-one instant message conversation can be distracting and even annoying at times (especially when an IM window suddenly pops up on the screen and draws one's attention to it), the authors' research argues that chat rooms are more beneficial to workers because they can choose whether or not to participate in the group conversation based on the surrounding context within it. One of the focuses of this article is regarding the actual content of conversations taking place inside these afforementioned chat rooms. Not surprisingly, the majority of messages (69%) were work-related. Interestingly, 13% of the messages dealt with the availability of others, which supports the idea that chatting online is just a way to arrange for more "real" interactions, such as phone calls or face-to-face meetings. There was a also a small precentage of messages that were non-work related and meant to be humorous. One of the findings in the study was that as the day progresses (mid-late afternoon), there is a sharp increase in the amount of humor related messages that are sent. Perhaps people are burnt out from real work throughout the whole morning and into the afternoon that they need to joke around a bit before the work days ends for their own sanity.

While this study is strictly focused on group chat, conversing one-on-one can create a greater temptation to discuss non-work issues, such as sports, family, gossip, etc. because people may think that a regular IM with one person is more private. As stated earlier, an IM window can be slightly more intrusive compared to a group chat window that includes many conversations going on at once between many people. In the workplace, people typically feel more obliged to respond immediately to an IM from someone rather than casually follow along in conversation whenever is necessary, like in a chat room.

February 07, 2006

IMing in the Workplace

Interaction and Outeraction: Instant Messaging in Action

This article discusses how Instant Messaging has made its way into the workplace and the ways in which it is used there as well. IMing provides a way for co-workers to communicate informally without worrying about their voice over the phone or their grammar in an email. One worker that the authors interviewed said, "I use email more like the adult thing. IM is more the fun thing."

One of the main reasons people have started to IM one another in the workplace is that it is much quicker than email and even phone conversations. While calling someone on the phone can potentially lead to lengthier conversations, IMing helps people get right to the point. People may even respond faster to IMs simply because they are a lot more visible on the computer screen since a window pops up. A message can be replied to quicker this way rather than having to read through a whole email or listen to an entire voicemail.

Instant Messaging at work also serves as a way to take a little break from the busy work day. Occassionally, people will IM their friends and family throughout the day just to check in or say hi. People still IM their co-workers during the day to arrange meetings and lunch breaks together too, though. In an office set up with many cubicles near each other, two people talking over everyone else could be very annoying, so IMing is also a way to avoid disturbing other people in the office.

There is a good chance that people can multitask while they IM at work too. Rather than trying to pick up the phone while meeting with someone face-to-face, IMing allows workers to get multiple things accomplished simultaneously. If a more formal conversation is necessary, an initial IM be a way to determine someone's availability in order to speak with him/her on the phone. Basically, Instant Messaging in the workplace can be used for quick questions and clarifications, scheduling, arranging impromptu social meetings, and keeping in touch with friends and family.

February 02, 2006

The Beginning

So this is actually my first time ever using one of these online blogs/journals. I will using using this to keep a record of my research throughout my independent study for INET this semester. I will post articles, books, and whatever other scholarly thing I read. I will also summarize them and have links to any related websites that I find.

Well if you've actually found my blog on the internet and are reading this, you're probably wondering what the focus of my independent study is. I will be analyzing all things Instant Messaging. Since the INET minor is mainly about the ways in which the internet effects us from all different perspectives, I thought I would focus my study on the effects of one of the ways that college students (myself included) spend a lot of their time online --- chatting on Instant Messenger --- from various perspectives. If my topic becomes more specific as the semester rolls on, that would be great as well. Throughout the semester, all of this will be going towards a research paper that will be completed by May. If it ends up being good enough, I should be able to successfully graduate with a minor in Internet Studies.

I think this will be a fitting way to complete the INET minor. I hope you enjoy my research!