Instantly Growing Up

If they'd only listened to the kids. Business has discovered instant messaging in a big way

Bing-bong-bong-bing! It began with countless computer kids tapping out chiming instant messages to their pals. Now, in a classic case of adults playing techno-catch-up, America's workforce is fast discovering the benefits of instant messaging too. An estimated 20 million employees, representing half of all big U.S. companies, routinely fire off pop-up missives in lieu of cumbersome conference calls or e-mail--which now seems as plodding as a telegram. "This is no longer about teenagers and chat," says John Patrick, vice president for Internet technology at IBM, whose Lotus Development unit produces Sametime, the leading instant-messaging program for business use. "If I were...

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