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Commentary: The meeting under the table

Replacing the paper notes passed through classrooms of old, wireless instant messages are poised to transform the nature of surreptitious communication in business meeting rooms.

By Ken Dulaney, Gartner Analyst

Many of us can remember writing a note in school to a classmate across the room, which was passed surreptitiously from one willing friend to another until it reached the intended recipient.

Cycle forward 20 years. The classrooms are now boardrooms and business meeting rooms. Although a more mature audience occupies them, the irreverent thoughts and silent musings about meeting proceedings still beg to be shared. The difference is that paper notes are poised to be replaced by wireless instant messaging.

See news story:
IBM to offer wireless instant messaging
Instant messaging, a dominant technology on PCs today, is moving toward widespread adoption on a wide variety of mobile devices. With some 12 billion--yes, that's billion--Short Message Service (SMS) messages sent worldwide over the airwaves each month (paging adds an additional 25 percent), mobile instant messaging is already popular.

Wireless instant messaging of the kind that Lotus is promoting with its "Sametime Everyplace" service is the next generation after two-way SMS and paging. The difference is that while SMS and paging have poor addressing schemes and are closed systems, instant messaging offers Internet compatibility and, with its concept of "buddy lists," permits autodiscovery of addressable recipients.

These improvements should lure many committed SMS and paging users to move to wireless instant messaging. Wireless LANs married to tablet-style personal digital assistants (PDAs) offer other advantages. Unlike notebook computers, PDAs and other handheld wireless devices are highly portable; they can be hidden in one's lap under the table.

The note-passing metaphor isn't entirely fanciful. There could be very real productivity gains from the use of instant messaging in a meeting. Many of those who attend meetings claim there may be only five minutes of individually relevant content for every 60 minutes of actual meeting time. Instant messaging holds the promise of turning the 55 minutes of slack time into productive time, although it certainly presents challenges to an attendee's attention span. Still, with the advent of wireless instant messaging, the industry could be witnessing a shift in which the real meeting becomes the meeting under the table.

Whatever its effect on meetings, Gartner believes that wireless instant messaging will become a pervasive technology because of its widespread availability on cell phones and because of new technologies and software that will make it viable on wireless LANs. Although instant messaging is a few years off for most companies, it is important that enterprises begin to evaluate the technologies today and monitor progress closely as new offerings emerge this year.

(For related commentary on instant messaging, see registration required.)

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