NEW YORK (AP) _ America Online remains the leading provider of instant messaging services, though Yahoo! and MSN are catching up, according to a study released Wednesday.
Jupiter Media Metrix, an Internet measurement company, said the percentage of home instant messaging users who subscribe to multiple services grew to 29 percent in September, up from 24 percent a year earlier.
More than 53 million Americans used at least one of the three from home in September, a 28 percent increase from last year. More than 41 million used an AOL service such as Instant Messenger or ICQ. More than 18 million used MSN Messenger, and 12 million used Yahoo! Messenger.
AOL's increase over September 2000 was 21 percent, compared with 94 percent for MSN and 25 percent for Yahoo.
For AOL's competitors, the growth was larger at work.
AOL had 8.8 million users in September, an increase of 17 percent. MSN went up 88 percent to 4.8 million, and Yahoo 83 percent to 3.4 million.
Instant messages are short bursts of text sent instantly over the Internet. They were made popular by AOL's development of ``buddy lists,'' which let users know when friends are online and ready to receive messages.
They have replaced phone calls for many teen-agers and have helped the deaf communicate.
Unlike e-mail, instant messaging services do not work with one another, meaning users must subscribe to more than one to reach friends who use a competing product.
Meanwhile, another Internet measurement company, Nielsen/NetRatings, said Internet usage reached record levels in October as 115 million Americans went online. The total represents a four percent increase from September and a 15 percent jump from the same period last year.
Monthly Internet usage had been dropping since reaching nearly 114 million in May.
Nielsen/NetRatings said Tuesday the biggest growth was in home and fashion sites.
``As security concerns rise, there's more interest in nesting activities, taking care of the family and the home, buying a nice set of sheets,'' said Sean Kaldor, vice president of analytical services.
He also said people may have deferred such purchases from September.
Nielsen/NetRatings also estimated that more than 176 million Americans, or 62 percent of the population, had access to the World Wide Web. That's a jump from 156 million, or 57 percent, a year ago.