Instant messaging: why is it so popular?

A brief discussion on instant messaging and three reasons why it has become so popular.

Who would have thought that in the middle of the second decade of the 21st century text messaging would still be popular? While traditionally the term ‘text messaging’ referred to the Short Messaging Service (SMS) offered by mobile/cellular communications providers, in today’s everyday parlance it tends to cover any short message sent from cell phone or other device. Hence although there has been a steady decline in the use of SMS worldwide, according to sources such as
Ofcom and Deloitte, exponential growth in instant messaging (IM) has been occurring.

On Monday, 1 February 2016, IM service, WhatsApp, reached one billion subscribers, and is without a doubt, the most popular messaging application globally. It also means that, essentially, one out of seven people worldwide are using WhatsApp. Further, at the time of writing, there are nearly 3.8 billion unique mobile subscribers; hence nearly one in four people are using WhatsApp.

However, it ought to be remembered that WhatsApp is not the only game in town. Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, to name a few, each also have hundreds of millions of subscribers, and for the most part are still growing. But why are these applications so popular?

First, IM can be an inexpensive way to communicate on mobile/cellular phones. For discrete, ad hoc texts, IM can consume very little data on a data plan, and virtually negligible amounts when connect to Wi-Fi. Further, noting that it is becoming increasing popular for mobile/cellular carriers to enter into zero rating agreements with IM providers, like WhatsApp, there is even greater inducement for consumers to use those services over SMS messaging. Additionally, unlike SMS, which although cheaper than a voice call, there is a price for each text message sent, which can add up over time and make it less attractive than instant messaging.

Second, SMS is limited to text, that is letters, numbers, and symbols found on the typical typewriter or keyboard. With IM services, a variety of media can transmitted – photos, videos, voice clips, emoticons – all of which enrich the user experience.

Finally, IM services can better support group discussions/engagement, which aligns with the continuing attitude and interest in social networking. Some IM applications do not require their subscribers to have each other’s telephone numbers in order to connect, but instead establish the connection – users liking or following each other – by the user accounts that have set up. Hence, depending on the application, a user can be connected to a variety of people – many of whom they might not personally, but have some common interest and so wish to engage.

In summary, IM is a more sophisticated medium than SMS. It come in a variety of flavours, and so offers a multitude of options and experiences for today’s consumer.


Image credit:  Álvaro Ibáñez (flickr)



  • Another 2 reasons why instant messenging is so popular are; 1.They have dual connectivity to the Internet, utilising both their phones Mobile data, and nomadic wi-fi. And 2. Platforms such as Vibe, Line and Facebook Messenger, offer both audio and video chat. Both via wi-fi and mobile broadband. No doubt, Whatapp will follow eventually.

  • Very interesting. Instant messaging is way before its time my love Ras Albert Williams. We used it and I will always remember to so very many levels. It was our beginning…

  • And probably least of the major points already raised, IM’s are far better suited for collaborative functions than are their counterpart, SMS. Eg you would be able to know that the person you wish to collaborate with is available or not through statuses indicators etc., whether they are online or offline, even.

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