Okay, it turns out that I was less wrong than I thought a little while ago. I'd like to quote an article on Instant Messaging Planet here:

"Since 1999, when AOL served 100 percent of IM users, AOL confronted two major new IM entrants, Yahoo! and Microsoft, as well as numerous smaller entrants," the application continues, citing figures from industry researcher Media Metrix, now part of comScore Networks. "As a result, AOL has experienced a substantial decline in its IM share. Its share of unduplicated, all-location users has fallen from 100 percent to 58.5 percent in just three and one-half years."

There we have it. AOL is a bit over half the IM market. That means Yahoo and Microsoft probably have something close to 25% each. Those numbers are from April 2003, so it's anybody's guess as to which direction they've gone since then.

Thanks to Jim for the pointer to newer stats.

Update: He also IM'd me a a CNet article from August which says:

Although AOL's AIM and ICQ together make up the largest IM network, MSN and Yahoo are making strides. In March 2003, AIM had 31.9 million unique users while ICQ had 28.3 million, according to ComScore Media Metrix. MSN Messenger reached 23.1 million unique users while Yahoo Messenger reached 19 million. Both Microsoft and Yahoo launched IM clients with virtually zero market share.

So there we go. It's really a four horse race.

Another Update: Based on the international feedback rolling in, it would seem that the "A" in "AOL" really does mean America. The Microsoft Monopoly is indeed strong overseas. Interesting.

Posted by jzawodn at January 25, 2004 08:05 PM

Reader Comments
# Jon Gales said:

Still 3 horses. AOL owns ICQ :P.

on January 25, 2004 08:40 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

As I understand it, the two services do not interoperate. So that makes it a 4-horse race.

Or have things changed?

on January 25, 2004 08:43 PM
# Scott Johnson said:

They still don't interoperate, but AOL's ICQ ownership makes it a 3-company game.

on January 25, 2004 09:17 PM
# Philip Tellis said:

That means Yahoo and Microsoft probably have something close to 25% each.

Umm, that assumes that people use only one IM service. I have no real data, but judging from the comments on the ayttm, gaim, fire and kopete lists, I'd say that close to 80% of users have accounts on more than one service, and use all of them regularly.

Also, AOL might be huge in the US, but I don't think it's that big outside. We have relatively few AOL users here in India. MSN holds the largest market share simply because that's the only service most home users have heard of. Yahoo comes in second. Once upon a time ICQ was the only service used.

on January 25, 2004 11:57 PM
# tfr said:

I guess the numbers might look true for US - the rest of the world has never really been on the AOL.

Down here in Estonia, I'd say, MSN is a good 85-90% and the three other share the rest of the market.

on January 26, 2004 12:10 AM
# Iain said:

In Melbourne, Australia, MSN messenger is very much the dominant program - It's almost the only thing that gets used.

on January 26, 2004 12:37 AM
# Matt said:

MSN is used more behind corporate firewalls because it needs no setup to tunnel through the firewall on port 80.

Of course sysadmins hate that :-)

on January 26, 2004 12:50 AM
# Mike said:

MSN Messanger is also very popular in the UK. I don't know anyone that uses AIM and only a few that still use ICQ.

on January 26, 2004 01:06 AM
# craig said:

I'd agree with MSN's popularity outside the US - nearly all of the international students I've met here at school use MSN and do not have AIM accounts.

on January 26, 2004 04:24 AM
# Vijay R said:

From what I heard through some friends in Korea, MSN is dominant there because of its non-english language support - maybe that's why its so popular outside the US.

on January 28, 2004 12:33 AM
# Menchi said:

I use Jabber...

on January 28, 2004 05:16 AM
# Menchi said:

Oh, I forgot to add, Jabber has more users than ICQ.

on January 28, 2004 05:17 AM
# JP Villa said:

Here in Argentina, the IM market is becoming 100% MSN. A few years ago was nearly 100% ICQ. I don't know how, but nobody uses the latter seriously anymore. Some people is still online, but doesn't count because is at the same time on MSN. Trillian-like messengers have a very good user base here.
AIM never was over 0.01% and never will. Yahoo Messenger never reached more than 1%. Most suprising realizing the fact that almost everybody uses Yahoo Mail here. But when it comes to IM I've seen people using his Yahoo Mail account as a MS-Passport.

on January 30, 2004 06:13 AM
# Wooman7 said:

According to Microsoft's PR report in November 03, 'More than 110 million customers worldwide log into the MSN Messenger instant messaging service each month. MSN Messenger is available in 26 languages and used in nearly every country in the world.'
From what I understand, neither MediaMetrix nor NNR track IM well or at all unless that's changed.
IMHO, MSN has gone miles to improve the service for International customers, while Yahoo continues to innovate like mad on their client. With Yahoo's themes, they are trying to find a way to monetize the space. Although, I don't know how well that is paying off. Both use IM as another vehicle for advertising across their networks. IM doesn't really pay for itself in the 3-company race. It's all about part of an end-to-end experience for users and advertisers.

on January 31, 2004 05:58 AM
# Manish Jethani said:

The MSN IM protocol is the best of the lot. I develop a Python implementation of it.

on January 31, 2004 06:56 PM
# Dedicated Servers Blog said:

The numbers aren't for U.S. only, they are worldwide. IM is much more popular in the U.S. than it is in the rest of the world, and MSN/Yahoo have about 2% marketshare in the United States (AIM 95%, ICQ 1%).

I think it's interesting that MSN Messenger can't get any type of foothold in its home country, but it seems to be wildly popular anywhere else. Do people from other countries just not like what the A stands for?

I added an AIM bot to the site for users to send feedback to, thinking that AIM had 95% of the market. I'm glad I took the time to search for answers on actual marketshares, because now readng these comments I may have to think about adding one on MSNM too so that all of my feedback isn't from just one country. Ack!

on February 19, 2005 08:45 AM
# Jenica Gallant said:

Hey everyone, I'm doing a paper for a popular course at university and i was wondering if anyone would be able to direct me to sites where I could get some valid statistics on instant messaging, I'm having an awful time trying to find anything. Thanks!


on February 2, 2006 01:05 PM
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