Though there may be many people out there who think of instant messaging (IM) as a toy for teens, the truth is it has become an important tool for adults as well, both for social chatting as well as work-related discourse. Today, Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) America Online unit, which offers the most popular instant messenger client, AIM, said it has teamed up with several companies to offer a more business-friendly version of the software.

AOL has enlisted the services of WebEx Communications (NASDAQ:WEBX) and Lightbridge (NASDAQ:LTBG) to bring us AIM Business Services, which will allow users to fire up conference calls and Web meetings via AIM, as well as share data and information. The service is available as a corporate subscription or on a pay-as-you-go basis.

In recent history, Fool contributors Tim Beyers and Mark Mahorney have commented on instant messaging in a business setting. It doesn't hurt to mention, as they did, that IBM (NYSE:IBM) already has major penetration in business messaging with its Lotus product, which includes NotesBuddy (an integration of email and IM capabilities), or that Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) has a similar deal with WebEx for videoconferencing for its messaging application. Of course, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has set its sights on corporate messaging too.

It appears that 14 million of us use AIM at work, though some companies still frown on IM. According to International Data Corp., 22 million of a total of 188 million IM users use the technology at work. I have no doubt that many people use it for work-related functions -- I've had several jobs in which IM was perfect for those quick questions that just don't warrant a phone call, email, or the time and energy it takes for a trip down the hall. However, I do question whether the lion's share of current corporate IM traffic is really for work-related communications.

In addition, while this may be a solid way for AOL to finally get some users to pay money for what has been a popular and free program, I wonder if one of the barriers to widespread corporate adoption is the lack of compatibility among the major IM clients.

For such souped-up IM to work for true business wheeling and dealing, compatibility is key, not sitting behind the walls created by incompatible programs. Most of us would rather stick with the IM client that holds the critical mass of our friends, co-workers, and business contacts. AOL may be making strides in offering important value-added services for the business users it already has, but when it comes to the big picture, there are still obstacles to takeoff.

For more in-depth thoughts on technology, corporate messaging, and conferencing, check out the following articles:

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. She is much more likely to use AIM than the phone for catching up with friends.