Enough excuses, here's my thoughts on IM and Skype.
Personal Instant Messaging Timeline
College - a DOS-ish peer-to-peer system on the local network. Limited utility, but great for distraction/gossip while working long hours on literature papers.
Grad School - AIM (meh), Yahoo Messenger (meh), Meebo (website widget good, chat meh), Skype IM (not bad), and Google Talk (ditto). The last three worked surprisingly well for project collaboration. Note taking wasn't necessary - both Meebo and Skype chat logs can be saved and accessed later. On one project, we used Google Chat and Docs for international collaboration on a paper; more efficient than many in-person projects!
Lately - Google Chat, and rarely, Facebook chat. Both ultra-simple, but I want convenience rather than features. I use them because they are there, and because I don't need to cultivate a separate list of contacts. Useful for quick chats with friends/family I 'bump into' while using either Google Mail or Facebook.
So true, but... (via xkcd)
What I like about IM in general - I'm not a phone person. At ALL. I actually had a mild phobia of making/taking phone calls up until college or thereabouts. Something about a voice with no visual clues makes me uncomfortable. Also, the natural pauses that occur in conversation seem extra-awkward on the phone.
If I can't talk to someone in person, I'd rather write to them. But sometimes email just isn't quick enough.
Also, like it or not, multitasking is the new norm. Ever try multitasking during a phone conversation? It doesn't work very well. Multitasking is much easier during an IM conversation, because you have a visual record of where you are in the exchange. Furthermore, most veteran IM'ers accept frequent pauses as a standard part of the interaction - for some reason, it feels less annoying than being put on hold.
Combine that with the potential privacy of anonymous chat, and IM seems to me like a perfect match for a busy reference environment.
Skype/Video chat, or "On screen, Mr. Worf!"
I think Skype and similar video chat services like Google Talk are, in a word, amazing. I am a life-long science fiction fan, and "videophones" are standard in almost every speculative universe. They are part of my futuristic daydreams, along with hoverboards, flying cars, and moving sidewalks. Look, there's the viewscreen now!
Oooh, shiny! (flickr photo via torley)
You don't see moving sidewalks anywhere outside of airports, and I'm still waiting impatiently for my hoverboard and flying car. But if you have an internet connection and a few pieces of inexpensive equipment, the "videophone" is a reality.
I don't have a webcam myself yet (waiting for my desktop computer to bite the dust so I can get a laptop w/ a built in), but I have used both Skype and Google Talk to chat with family members. I have a huge extended family - each of my parents has 4 siblings, plus spouses and a boatload of cousins - and while we are close and keep in touch with each other, it's hard to get all of us together in person. When Grandma can't make the trip from Phoenix to be with us at Christmas, she can still see her great-grandkids open the presents she sent.
Turns out I'm living in the future already...so I've moved my sights a bit farther up the line. NOW I can't wait 'til I can strap my videophone on my wrist à la Dick Tracy.