Research on Instant Messaging by qbm49310






       Personal communication applications are the most used features of the Internet for

the majority of today’s users. Many Internet-based applications, including e-mail, voice

mail, videoconferencing, chat, bulletin boards, and instant messaging are currently

available to users. The MIS research community has always been interested in studying

electronic communication tools, such as e-mail, videoconferencing, group decision

support systems (GDSS), and others. A large number of publications can be found in

literature especially on the subject of e-mail use in organizations. In the last 10 years, a

newer communication tool, instant messaging applications, have been gradually adopted

by users. In the last few years, instant messaging has become a tool not only for teens to

chat with each other, but also a legitimate channel for business communication. With its

growing importance, it is essential to examine more closely about its impact on the users,

organizations, and the decision-making process. This paper review available research on

instant messaging since its inception and summarize the findings. A framework for future

research is proposed.

Development of Instant Messaging

       The origin of instant messaging can be traced to several decades ago when

mainframes were the only type of computer systems. For example, users could use the

Talk and Write utilities to communicate instantly with one another on early Unix

systems. In the 1980s’, local area networks (LAN) became popular. Administrators of

LAN (or sometimes even users) could broadcast short messages to other users on the

same network instantly. In the 1990s’, Web-based chat rooms started to provide general

users instant communication capabilities. Instant messaging combined the capability of

e-mail and chat rooms. It allows real-time communication like chat rooms, while

maintaining the personal atmosphere and privacy of e-mail.

       Instant messaging was introduced to Internet users in 1996. It allows users to stay

in touch with friends and family while online at no additional cost. Due to its ease of use

and usefulness, its popularity soars quickly. The initial adopters are mostly youngsters

who use instant messaging to chat with friends. In the next few years, instant messaging

technology and products quickly grow.

       The use of instant messaging for business purposes have been steadily increasing.

An often cited example is its use by stockbrokers to stay in touch with clients. The

potential for instant messaging to rival e-mail as a primary communication tool is there.

The research community has also begun to discuss the implications and potential impacts

of using instant messaging in the workplace.

Research on Instant Messaging

       Many questions need to be answered before the potential of instant messaging in

the workplace can be predicted. Currently, there is little hard evidence on how instant

messaging is actually used, and how users perceive it. In this section, previous research

on related subjects and existing research on instant messaging is reviewed.

Previous Research on Computer-Based Communication Devices

       Computer-based communication (CMC) has been a popular topic of research in

the past two decades. The potential impacts CMC on individual behavior, organizational

behavior, and society as a whole have been examined by previous research. For example,

CMC has been shown to allow users to develop meaningful relationships online. Due to

the relative short history of instant messaging, a relatively small number of studies

specifically target the use instant messaging, as compared to other CMC devices.

Using Instant Messaging to Facilitate Team Work

       Instant messaging is gradually gaining acceptance in business organizations in

recent years. Because of its supports of spontaneous and opportunistic communication,

there are potential benefits not provided by e-mail or other forms of computer-based

communications. The unique presence awareness feature of instant messaging is useful in

filling some of the gaps in traditional business communication systems for connecting

distance workers, telecommuters, and business partners. For example, such capabilities

geographically separated workers to work on the same project, such as writing a

computer program.

       An important function of instant messaging at the work place is to facilitate team

work between geographically separated co-workers. With increasing use of outsourcing

and off shoring, teams located on different continents desperately need a coordination

tool that will allow them to conduct formal meetings and transfer documents, and respond

to unanticipated events quickly. Instant messaging is also ideal for spontaneous

communications such as brief questions, clarifications, coordination, scheduling, and

other tasks that require the rapid exchange of information. The presence awareness

feature removes the need to negotiate availability before communication.

Existing Instant Messaging Research

       An experiment using 44 teams in the United States was conducted. The results

show that teams using e-mail are more effective in terms of generating ideas than teams

using instant messaging. There are no significance differences between the two

communication methods, in terms of task difficulty, playfulness, and ease of use (Huang,

Hung, & Yen, 2007).

       Another study explores the advantages and disadvantages of instant messaging in

a medical network environment. The authors concluded that instant messaging might be,

for many people, a convenient way of chatting over the Internet. The directory services

and presence status make it very attractive to medical applications that need to have real

time and store and forward communication (Sachpazidis, Kontaxakis, Sakas, 2006).

       A custom-made instant messaging tool was developed and integrated into online

learning environments. This instant messaging application provided the students with

presence awareness of other students and instructors. The results showed that the system

was used mainly for socializing but that it also supported the students' learning activities.

The authors concluded that instant messaging can be successfully integrated and used

within online learning environments (Contreras-Castillo, Pérez-Fragoso, Favela, 2006).

       Instant messaging can also be used to conduct data collection via online

interviews. Studies have demonstrated that the risk of receiving false data in instant

messaging interviews is small. The quality of the data collected via instant messaging is

acceptable. The contact rate, response rate, and retention rate are also satisfactory. An

experiment also demonstrated that the response rate is dependent on the information

provided in the chat request (Stieger, Göritz 2006).

       Instant messaging was often used in the distant learning setting to foster student

participation. A study compared two groups of students: one that used instant messaging

and the other does not. Data showed that the instant messaging group had a higher sense

of participation and spent more time working with the content and communicating with

their peers. In addition, the social networks of the instant messaging group were also

stronger (Hrastinski, 2006).

       Another study examined the satisfaction and performance on tasks using instant

messaging, videoconferencing, and face to face communication modes. The result

showed that satisfaction with the medium was lower among teams using instant-

messaging system than other teams (Simon, 2006)

       A study examined the functions of instant messaging in terms of language use,

social networks and surveillance. The experiment showed users manipulated the tone,

voice, word choice, and subject matter of their messages to fit their communication needs.

Users also use instant messaging to enhance social relationships and status across

contexts. On the level of surveillance, users spread texts across friends, fight spam

messages, assumed alternative identities, and overcame restrictions to their online

communication (Lewis & Fabos 2005).

       A study showed that teenagers change some of their adolescent linguistic ways in

favor of more formal writing conventions when they make the transition from high

school to college. Some anecdotal evidence suggests some teachers tolerate instant

messaging novelties in class assignments (Baron 2005).

       Like other Internet-based communication tools, deception in instant messaging is

emerging as an important issue. In a study, empirical results showed some verbal and

nonverbal cues could allow one to detect deceivers from truth tellers (Zhou 2005).

       A survey conducted by Meta Group showed that 37% employees use instant

messaging applications for personal activities more than for job-related ones. At the time

of the survey, about 1/3 of companies have no official policy regarding the use of instant

messaging. About 2/3 of companies allow limited use of e-mail for non-work activity, but

only 44% have similar policies for instant messaging. Only a small percentage of

companies prohibit personal use of the phone and e-mail. 16% of companies banned the

use of instant messaging completely (Swartz 2005).

       A study suggests that for instant messaging success in the workplace, critical

mass is an important factor. Currently, instant messaging is perceived as informal. It is

also deemed as less rich than face-to-face communication. Employees surveyed indicate

they use instant messaging not only as a replacement for other communication media, but

also as an additional method for reaching others. Employees view instant messaging as

privacy enhancing. They also dislike its interruptive nature (Cameron, Ann Frances &

Webster, Jane 2005).

       A study of instant messaging used in a distance education Web-based course

found that students who used instant messaging perceived it as easier to communicate,

felt a stronger sense of community, and had more channels for social interaction. The

information exchanged with instant messaging includes class material, information about

the school, and their common degree program. The role of instant messaging is similar to

a “virtual hallways” for participants of a distance education class (Nicholson, 2002).

Theoretical Foundations for Instant Messaging Research

       The most pressing need for understanding the impact and user behavior of instant

messaging is a theoretical foundation and a framework for research. Existing empirical

studies are very limited in quantity and the majority of them are not based on any theories

or frameworks. In the following, several theories used in MIS research are discussed.

Cognitive Fit Theory

       The cognitive fit theory suggests that for the most effective and efficient problem

solving to occur, the problem representation and any tools or aids employed should all

support the strategies required to perform that task (Umanath and Vessey 1994). This

theory views problem solving as the outcome of the relationship between the problem

representation and problem-solving task. Based on the cognitive fit theory, the problem-

solving space has three components: the problem representation, the problem-solving

task, and the mental representation. The problem solver acts on information in the

problem representation and the problem-solving task to produce the mental representation

in his or her working memory. The mental representation produces the problem solution.

When the types of information in the problem-solving representation and the problem-

solving task are the same, the problem solver can use processes that match the

information type to solve the problem. In other words, there is a fit among all three

components of the problem-solving space. Therefore, the problem-solving process will

be more efficient and accurate because the problem solver does not have to transform the

information in the problem representation into a mental representation suitable for the

task. For instance, if the task requires the acquisition of spatial information, a spatial

problem-representation should facilitate the problem-solving process (Umanath and

Vessey 1994).


       In previous studies on CMC, several theories were used to model the impact and

user behaviors. One frequently adopted theory that is also potentially useful in studying

instant messaging is the media richness theory (MRT). Two important factors of MRT

are the ability of a medium to reduce uncertainty and to resolve equivocality. A key

assumption of MRT is that users are free to choose the media deemed most appropriate to

perform a task (Daft, Lengel, and Trevino, 1987). MRT was based on research in both the

communications and information systems fields (Daft and Lengel, 1986; Daft and Lengel,

1987; Lee, 1994; Markus, 1994; Sproull and Kiesler, 1986). As defined in MRT,

information richness is the ability of information to change a recipient’s understanding

within a given amount of time. In other words, “rich” information can change a

recipient’s understanding more quickly than “lean” information which will change the

recipient’s understanding, but will require more time to achieve the same result. MRT

suggests that interactive media are better than non-interactive ones. A medium that

carries more cues is a richer than the ones that carry fewer cues.

Technology Acceptance Model

       Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) is a widely used model for MIS research.

It tries to explain the use, intention to use, and acceptance of new technology (Davis,

1989). The two predictors of IT usage in the TAM are perceived usefulness (PU) and

perceived ease of use (EU). The assumption of the model is that both PU and EU affect

users’ attitudes toward a new technology, which in turn affects its actual usage.

Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Theory (UTAUT)

       The purpose of the UTAUT is similar to TAM – identifying factors that affect

intention to use and usage. UTAUT has four constructs: performance expectancy, effort

expectancy, social influence, and facilitating conditions. Mediating factors include gender,

age, experience, and voluntariness (Venkatesh et. al., 2003). It is called a unified theory

because it consolidates the views of several previous models.

Research Framework

       To facilitate research on instant messaging, a research framework is proposed

(See Figure 1). The framework contains five major constructs as independent variables:

usage factors, user factors, organizational factors, technology factors, and task factors.

Three constructs as dependent variables: effects on users, effects on organizations, and

effects on task. Each of the nine constructs may contain multiple factors. For example,

the user construct could include factors such as user experience, education, gender, age,

skill level, cognitive styles, and other individual differences. For the technology construct,

potential factors to study include use of emotional icons, presence awareness,

notifications, video capabilities, and other technology factors.

       The framework would allow one to identify numerous research topics. For

example, a possible research question would be: does the use of emotional icons (one of

the technology factors) affect user satisfaction (effects on users)? Another possible

research question would be: does the use of instant messaging (usage factor) improve

team performance (effects on task)?

Usage Factors

                                                       Effects on
User Factors

   Factors                   Use of Instant
                                                     Effects on Tasks


                                                     Effects on Users

Task Factors

         FIGURE 1: A Research Framework for the Study of Instant


       Instant messaging is a promising new way of communication for business users.

Currently, the use of instant messaging is limited in terms of the number of users and

usage frequency. With proper conditions, instant message could someday become as

important as e-mail for business users, in terms of usage frequency and legitimacy.

       This paper reviews a limited number of instant messaging studies, and

summarizes the findings. Several theories are discussed to serve as theoretical

foundations for future studies. In addition, a research framework is proposed. The

framework would allow future research on instant messaging to be more systematic and

thoroughly cover all aspects of the field.


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