Forget Spam. Have You Been Spimmed?

Of the 52 million adult Americans who use instant messaging, approximately 30 percent have received ''spim'', or unsolicited commercial instant messages, according to a survey Pew Internet & American Life Project.

This amounts to approximately 17 million adults who have received the instant-message variant of spam.

''I think it's safe to say that instant messaging has become popular enough and important enough in people's lives that commercial groups are trying to figure out how to use it to sell things,'' said Lee Rainie, director of Pew Internet & American Life Project. ''The question is, how will people feel about that? It will be interesting to see if they try to keep it out of their lives or will embrace it as something useful to them.''

The study polled 2,201 adults over the age of 18 between January 12 and February 9, 2005, with a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points.

The most striking demographic pattern uncovered by the survey is that younger Internet users, below age 30, are the most likely to receive spim. Roughly 39 percent of respondents in that age group reported having received spim at least once. In comparison, 27 percent of survey participants between the ages of 30 and 49 said they'd been spimmed.

Surprisingly, no other firm pattern stands out regarding spim. IM users across all income brackets and racial/ethnic groups are equally likely to receive spim. Somewhat counter-intuitively, the survey found broadband users, despite a higher number of ''always on'' connections, are no more likely than dial-up users to receive spim.

Pew didn't ask respondents about the type or content of unsolicited commercial messages they received.

Other findings of the study include:

  • Two out of three (66 percent) of adult Internet users under the age of 30 use instant messaging.
  • Users in relatively poor households are among the most likely to use IM. Roughly 52 percent of online adults living in households earning less than $30,000 per annum use IM.
    There's a smaller than expected gap between IM use among broadband and dial-up users. Some 50 percent of adults with broadband connections at home use IM, versus 42 percent of dial-up users.

    This article was first published on