IM Angst

Rant time:

What’s the deal with people you have never met before IMing you? This is analogous to interrupting a potentially important conversation (let’s not pretend all of my conversations are important but some of them are...some are event important AND interesting). In my opinion, IMing basically says, “I know you well enough to do this” (among friends) or “this is urgent” (among business associates). I cannot tell you how many times I receive IMs that fall into neither category. When a simple e-mail would suffice, IM is chosen for the immediacy (of the sender) without regard to the time of the receiver.


Don’t get me wrong, I think IM is an amazing tool under the right circumstances. It’s like social networking…a great opportunity that many people simply mis-use. My mind has conceived of ways to use it that my bandwidth and resources don’t allow for (chats that I can publish on my blog, for example). 


Every once in a while, I get a little box that pops up with a name I don’t recognize (“who IS that?”).  Candidates have done it. I think that in messenger products, when someone wants to add someone to their “buddy list” or “contacts list”, the tool should tell the user that the person they are entering is going to receive a message that says “Jim has requested that you give him permission to interrupt you at any time via messenger” (OK, that's a little strong, but still...).  I think this would really make people think before they enter folks in. I mean, that is really what they are asking for. Yes, I could decline and I do. Yes, I could log out of the tool, but then I won’t hear from the people I really need to work and communicate with.


I don’t think that this is a functionality issue…I love the features available and hope to use them all someday. It’s a user education issue. The more sophisticated, educated user would hesitate before asking. I don’t think they have bad intent…they just don’t realize what they are asking: “Heather, I am a candidate and although you receive hundreds of resumes a week, I’d like to contact you at any time, even though you might be in the middle of something”. Frankly, I don’t mind communicating with every person that sends their resume to me. To some extent I already do and that’s not even to mention this here blog thing. The communication is A-OK, the implied immediacy of IM, not OK. It just assumes a little too much.


I don’t want to be the hand-slapper (but I will decline the IM request). I want to be the person that gives you the inside scoop on how to engage with “people like me” (you decide what that means). Unless a recruiter invites you to IM, I wouldn’t do it (just my opinion, of course). The reaction you get might not be what you were hoping for.


Comments (23)

  1. Daniel Moth says:


    I was going to write a similar blog post (and I might still do). The other thing that pisses me off is people from within the same company leaving voice mails when they could easily have sent an email (there is no urgency). There is a balance between IM, email and phone… maybe this stuff should be part of the induction week…

  2. mearls says:

    I decline all requests to add to my "buddy list" unless I recognize the email address of the requestor.  Messenger needs some improvement in this area to make it easier to sort out the good from the bad, but if I don’t recognize an email address, I don’t add them.

    I no longer think of it as "unfriendly", it’s the safest route.  Who knows if someone may have found some way to exploit Messenger and pass along some unwanted worm?

    However, it’s mostly due to the fact that many bots scour the Internet looking for IM addresses so that they can add you to their IM.  I’ve gotten some pretty nasty advertisements.

    Generally, though, what I find is that it’s usually kids (or people posing as kids) trying to make new friends.  No offense, but I have enough friends, I don’t need random new ones from the Internet.

    Of course, I could just be a little mean spirited.  🙂

  3. HeatherLeigh says:

    Daniel-I’m an e-mail person too. When I get a voicemail message, it shows up in my e-mail inbox anyway (unified messaging), but truth be told, I find that e-mail is quicker and more to-the-point. Definitely a style thing, I think. Some people find e-mail impersonal and prefer the conversations (maybe we can call these folks "people people").

    mearls- I hear you! I don’t get the teenage chat room stuff, but I do get the random invitation to something I’m definitely not interested in! I don’t think you’re mean spirited, just snarky like me…I like it!

  4. Tim says:

    Absolutely right and it is an immediacy thing, isn’t it? I actually would to have everyone committed to the same use of IM vs. e-mail vs. voice mail. When someone in the office IMs you a task/invite/whatever, you can’t really file it or set a reminder for it, can you? The problem is, if you leave it open and that person sends you another IM, you may never see it, because you still have the old window open.

    That being said, I still do love IM.

  5. HeatherLeigh says:

    I like it for chatting with a friend in another building or sending questions during a conf call. But I will admit that sometimes I ignore it if I’m heads-down.

  6. Nathan says:

    There’s a strong cultural component to people’s preferred communications channels, too. People who work with computers seem to like email and IM, while people from telecom backgrounds always want to talk. So I IM my buddy at Cisco, and my friend at Alcatel prefers Skype. It’s the old Bellheads vs. Netheads thing, played out on a personal level. Most people spend all their time in one culture and don’t even know they have one.

  7. HeatherLeigh says:

    Hmm, I was thinking it’s mostly a generational. Baby boomers like the phone, gen x like e-mail and gen y likes IM. I guess that’s still cultural but based on the generation one grows up in. I’m pure Gen X.

  8. Jeff Parker says:

    Oh now this is something I can totally agree with you on. Worst thing that happened to me once was when the dang ability to share your contact list with other people appeared. Hence there is where like you said Gen Y, to me, is getting irritating.

    My Nephew had me in his buddy list, and shared his buddy list with a friend, who shared his buddy list with a friend, etc. Normally I am sitting at the computer working on something I might be in full screen mode in a virtual machine or maybe relaxing playing a game, getting an IM not only completely blows you out of those apps, sometimes they can cause them to crash. For about a 6 month period I was getting IM’s from total strangers all teens of which I have nothing in common with. The worst was when some Goth people started trading buddy lists and somewhere down the line my name got into that group somewhere from my Nephew. So then at 10 at night I start getting IM’s from these Goth people totally out of the blue with links to their online poems and stuff. I seem to depress them even further when I ask them to please remove me from their buddy list then put them on permanent block, some of them are persistent too, they sign on under a different screen name asking why you blocked them, I reply because I am not Goth don’t care to be, thanks for sharing your poem but I am not interested please remove me from your list. Then I block them again.

    I have a screen name for work and a screen name for home. Only one person who I have the utmost respect for knows them both. There really needs to be some control put into IM clients for people that do not want to get messages except from only people they want. All others should be blocked and banned, they should have to request permission via email to add you. What ever moron thought it would be a good idea to implement buddy list sharing definitely did not think it through and I think he needs added to a few Goth buddy lists as well.

  9. Patblue says:

    AND HOW!  (as in the 1950s/Cleaver era (And How statement) meaning to agree etc)).  I have experienced much IM angst over the past 6 months for some reason, and I have basically ‘taken back the IM night’ as it were.  With those folks that I don’t know (and even those that I do) randomizing me at any given time of the day, I was feeling all torn and ‘bad’ about declining IM conversations.   One day, I just decided to stop feeling emotional about closing down IM requests/windows especially from those that I don’t know on a regular basis.  Needless to say I have much less IM conflict running around in my overactive brain now.   (For you HH)  IRREGARDLESS of the prospect of randomization, I love the IM tool, mainly because I very strongly dislike speaking on the phone, with greetings and salutations, etc, it is so bothersome.  I have learned some things from the other posts on this topic here… (I’m a simple guy you know).  Sharing buddy lists?  Who knew?  I also like the fact that I should be part of generation X (favoring email) but I am actually part of generation Y (IM favored here)..with caveats of course.

  10. Amen. I regularly receive IM’s from candidates asking who I am and how did I get into their buddy list. While I know who I am (other than that one time in college when I had a little too much to drink — well — more than a little), I do not know how I got onto their buddy list and also I don’t know who they are. I tell those who are polite who I am and then ask who they are and how I can help them. They tend to be appreciative. But what really amazes me is how many are rude right from the beginning and then get angry at me for my address being in their buddy list, as if I had nothing better to do than to break into their home and add my address to their buddy list. Not much of a chance that I’d want to their buddy.

    Steven Rothberg, President and Founder career site

  11. Jon Price says:

    If you don’t want IMs from wierdos asking to please look at ???????????, go into Options | Privacy and set "Only people on my Allow list can see me and send me messages". Every IM client has a "privacy" feature. Setting this does have small consequences because now no one can contact you without first having them in the contact list.

  12. HeatherLeigh says:

    Jeff-Goth poetry…now that is something I have not yet experienced!

    PatBlue – I thought "and how" was little rascals…"that’s alovely hat you are wearing today" is more cleaveresque…but you aren’t wearing a hat today despite the moist weather, are  you (just for you PatBlue!)? Are you really gen Y? I think you are gen X. Hmm, I feel older now.

    amrdaoud-well, I certainly can’t argue with being liked

    Steven-I stay away from anything with the word "buddy" attached. : )

    Jon-it might be the 80/20 rule (20 percent of the features are used by 80 percent of the people…you probably already knew that). I have to admit that even professionally, I rarely initiate contact via IM so I like the idea of people being able to contact me if they need to (and it’s appropropriate), but it makes sense that if it gets out of control you can put an end to it. I have to admit that even with people I know, sometimes the message would be better served via e-mail. I guess my question is whether something bad will happen if I don’t engage with them right that moment.

  13. Jeff Parker says:

    Goth poetry, well I have never seen anything that I would want to bookmark to read again, so your not missing too much.

    Jon, pretty much like Heather said, I know I can set things up that way. However, I have been using the same screen name for IM’s at home for 13-14 years now. I sometimes get an IM from someone I have not seen nor heard of in many years. I also do not expose my email address anymore. I have had the same email address for 15+ years now but it just auto replies mailbox full now. Too much spam at an email address that old. So the only way old friends know how to get a hold of me is through IM’s. However what we need is like an automatic application where if someone tried to send you an IM that is not on your buddy list. They must fill out an application as to why they are contacting you, who they are, where they got your name from. Then it emails you and tells them nicely that an email has been sent and they will add you if they find they need to, eventually they will figure out that emailing you may be the best way. Of course this would also need to have a way to report SPAM IMers or else they would just send you applications to talk to you with the reason being <insert some add here>. The only reason I Left ICQ was because it was nothing but spammers on there anymore. However ICQ had a great feature of someone can send you a message even when you are not online. ICQ was on to some nice communications but somewhere went the popularity of it. I think it was the spammers that made everyone go.

  14. Damn! I was just going to IM you!

  15. I use a lot of different IM services.  Back in the day when ICQ was hot I used to be on the ‘find a friend’ search where one could find random people online to chat with based on simple search terms.  Although those times were fun, they have long passed.  Now, just like you, I get quite agitated when people I don’t know IM me.  Spammers agitate me the worst though.  I have created a couple medium sized websites and truly don’t mind legit questions from people contacting me as a user of one of those sites but truly 100% random people drive me nuts.  It’s like a stranger calling me up on my cell phone to ask me my age, sex, location, and food preference in order to start a conversation.  I may have an ear piece that requires me to do no more than just talk so I can continue my work but the idea itself is enough to drive me batty.

    I know your ‘random’ people are probably people who seek to talk to you for a reason which puts a different angle on it but reguardless I completely agree with your perspective.

  16. I’m gonna be the dissenter and say you are being grumpy. I’ve got a bunch of friends and other developers I hardly know on my list and I’m glad to answer just about any kind of question that pops into their head just like I appreciate when they do the same for me. I don’t think twice about whether I’m interrupting them or not. If you don’t want to be bothered, then sign off or don’t answer. People that need to contact you will indeed find you somehow.

  17. HeatherLeigh says:

    Anthony-don’t you dare ; )

    Josh-yeah, when it’s a novelty, it’s fun just to try it but it wears thin

    Josh-maybe I’m like this all the time. You can think I’m grumpy but there’s a bunch of other grumps agreeing with me. I’m cool with people finding me to contact me (as I said…and it happens all the time…I encourage it), but they can do that via e-mail. I don’t have the kind of job where I can stop what I am doing at any time to answer questions. Frankly, with my job, I get tons of e-mail and I have a separate time scheduled to answer it.  If you have the kind of job where you can answer IMs at any time, that’s great, but I just don’t. I think that makes me busy, not grumpy. Tomato, to-mah-to.

  18. You hit the nail on the head with this post 😉

  19. Well I’m sure you’re very busy but you’re probably not as busy as me. I’ve been working 16 hour days for the last few months. But I still make time to help people. To-may-to.

  20. HeatherLeigh says:

    Josh-I do too, it’s really the whole point of my job. I can just do more of it if I manage my time effectively. It’s not a grouchy thing, it’s a time management thing.

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