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Companies start to get the instant message

Just because everyone's using it won't mean anyone's making much money on it.

The number of enterprise instant-messaging users will almost double in 2008 from the estimated 364 million current users, a study from Radacati Group predicts.

Since IM exploded in the consumer market, several companies have been trying to tap into the trend for their corporate customers. IM software makers such as Microsoft and IBM-owned Lotus have been trying--with limited success--to hook IM into other tools like word-processing, spreadsheets and e-mail to bring what has been a mostly social tool into the business world. Similarly, corporate telephone equipment maker Avaya recently came out with gear to marry IM and landline phones.

User growth doesn't mean revenue growth. Radicati expects the market to grow to only $413 million by 2008, with free IM services dominating. Indeed, the company expects that 88 percent of the projected 670 million users will prefer to use public IM networks for business and personal communication, instead of specialized business versions.

There may be more room for growth overseas. Only 20 percent of global enterprise users consider IM a valid corporate communication tool. This is expected to quadruple to 80 percent by the end of 2008. In North America, the figure is already as high as 85 percent.

A corporate survey conducted by the market researcher found that 44 percent of companies went for enterprise IM to increase intra-office communications, while another 33 percent were happy that they could reduce long-distance phone charges. About 11 percent of firms implemented it because it increased productivity and another 11 percent said it was complementary to e-mail and telephone.