The annoying unwanted messages that overflow inboxes are now also spreading onto desktops in the form of SPIM [define] — spam over instant messaging (IM). The Radicati Group estimates that SPIM will account for roughly 5 percent of instant messages traversing public networks (consumer and corporate) by the end of 2004, tripling from 400 million messages in 2003 to 1.2 billion.

John Sakoda, vice president of products, IMlogic, says that 5 percent may be a conservative estimate. "It is the type of number that is exceptionally hard to calculate. It can be as high as 7 percent."

Even though the volume of unwanted instant messages is still fairly low, corporations are becoming concerned about using the communications tool. "SPIM is impacting corporate buying decisions for instant messaging. People have a general set of concerns about any communication service and they want to know if they are protected," says Matthew Hunt, chief technology officer, Omnipod, Inc.

Corporate instant messaging will experience a phenomenal growth rate over the coming years, which will compound the problem of SPIM. Ferris Research predicts that the business IM market will grow by 130 percent from 2002 to 2003, and a further 85 percent from 2003 to 2004, representing a compound annual growth rate of 79 percent by 2007.

Projected Growth of
Business IM
2002 10 million
2003 23 million
2004 43 million
2005 78 million
2006 126 million
2007 182 million
Source: Ferris Research

Pornographic messages make up the majority of SPIM at 70 percent, followed by "get rich" schemes at 12 percent, product sales at 9 percent, and loans or finance messages at 5 percent, according to Radicati's research. Nearly all (90 percent) of SPIM messages are short one-line sentences followed by a URL, such as, "Hello, check out my Web cam at"

Increased awareness will help to alleviate the problem and Radicati recommends that users not click on unknown links that appear during an instant messaging session, and that businesses should refrain from publishing IM names in corporate directories.

Experts are split on where there is a future for legitimate instant message marketing. While IM represents a truly opt-in method of marketing, most businesses don't want to receive advertising at work.