Posts categorized "IM"

Google Finally Kills Off GoogleTalk and XMPP (Jabber) Integration

GoogleTalk is dead, Jim!

By way of a comment to a post I wrote back in May 2013 about Google seeming to kill off XMPP/Jabber support in Google+ Hangouts (spoiler: They did!), I learned from a friend that the GoogleTalk API was officially deprecated as of February 23, 2015. I confirmed this by finding a Google+ post from Google's Mayur Kamat.

Now, this is not a surprise. Google has been clear that Hangouts was the replacement and also that Hangouts does not support XMPP:

Googletalk end

Still, I'm sad to see the XMPP integration die off. It is just a continuation of the descent of messaging services into walled gardens ... a topic I've been writing about for many years.

UPDATE: Please see the post "No, it’s not the end of XMPP for Google Talk" on the XMPP Standards Foundation site. The XSF notes that XMPP is still used inside of Google and that XMPP federation can still occur with a third-part XMPP client. However, because Google does not support the secure use of XMPP via TLS, many public XMPP servers will not connect to its server. I join the XSF in wishing that Google would embrace secure messaging and better federation. However, given that their product direction is for Hangouts, which does NOT support XMPP, I'm skeptical that we'll ever see any better federation at this point.

On that note, it was really no surprise to see the media reports about Microsoft killing off Google and Facebook chat support in its Outlook.com service. Microsoft made this Google integration available back in May 2013, but today Microsoft really has no choice:

  • Google has killed off XMPP integration with Hangouts.
  • Facebook has killed off XMPP integration with their new v2.0 API.

And so Microsoft can only offer Outlook.com its own proprietary walled garden... Skype!

Goodbye GoogleTalk and... sadly... goodbye XMPP integration!


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The Mobile Messaging Wars Continue - Facebook Forces Separate Messenger App On Mobile Users

In the ongoing war for mobile messaging dominance and "what will replace SMS", Facebook has decided to annoy a serious part of their user base and force all mobile users to move to Facebook's separate Messenger app. In a short period of time, you will be forced to install the Messenger app if you want to send messages to Facebook friends while using your iOS or Android mobile phone.

Here's the thing... I already tried Messenger on my iPhone a while ago... AND I *UNINSTALLED* IT!

I don't want a separate messaging app. I already have a ton of those. When I am in Facebook I want to do all my Facebook activities and messaging within the one app. I tried Messenger and found the switching between the apps to be painful enough that I wanted nothing to do with it.

Now... in fairness, being someone who tends toward the "early adopter" stage, it was a while ago that I tried Messenger and before their "big update", so presumably they've made improvements. As Facebook so helpfully tells me, 190 of my friends use Messenger already. Knowing some of the people whose images I see on that ad Facebook show me, I can't imagine them tolerating a poor user experience... so yes, perhaps I should try it again.

But it's annoying to be forced to do so. Basically what it says to me is "we (FB) have tried every incentive possible to get people to move, but they aren't, so now we're going to make them move." Facebook already forced most of their European users to make the switch - but now they are making everyone switch.

There has been a great amount of media attention to this move today, and I received the email directly this morning:

Facebook messenger

The text itself says:

We wanted to let you know that messages are moving out of the Facebook app to our Messenger app, a free app that's faster and more reliable for everyday messaging. Messenger also includes: new ways to send photos and videos, voice calls, stickers, group conversations and more.

Soon, we'll start guiding you to get started with Messenger. After a few days, you'll also see a reminder notice in the Facebook app, where you'd normally see your messages. At that point, we'll ask you to install Messenger or go to the Facebook website to view and send messages. You'll still see new message notifications in the Facebook app, and it'll be easy to switch between Facebook and Messenger.

We appreciate your taking the time to install Messenger and know it will take a little while to adjust to using a second app. We look forward to sharing this fast, fun and reliable way of messaging with you. You can learn more here.

Where the "Soon, we'll start guiding you..." is really just marketing-speak for "Soon, you'll have no choice if you want to continue using Facebook messaging on your mobile phone."

The Bigger Picture

I understand why Facebook is doing this. They want a separate, lean "messaging" app that integrates tightly with your mobile phone operating system (iOS or Android). They want it so integrated that eventually you use it only and stop using the messaging app that is part of your o/s.

On my iPhone Apple has done a brilliant job with the "Messages" app integrating Apple's iMessage service in with regular SMS text messages. By default Apple tries to send your message via their OTT messaging service (iMessage) and then falls back to SMS when the recipient isn't registered with iMessage.

Facebook wants you to use their Messenger app as your default messenging app. They would like me to replace Apple's "Messages" with their "Messenger" app as my place to go do send a message. So they need a lean and focused messenging app to do this.

The OTT War For Mobile Messaging Dominance

And this IS the end-game. The war now is for which of the many "Over-The Top" (OTT) apps will be the replacement for the dying world of SMS messaging. People aren't sending as many actual SMS messages and are instead using:

  • iMessage from Apple
  • Facebook Messaging
  • WhatsApp (also now from Facebook)
  • Line from NHN
  • WeChat from Tencent
  • Hangouts from Google (as part of Google+ or separate)
  • Skype from Microsoft
  • Viber
  • Twitter
  • Blackberry Messenger (BBM - see update note below)

and probably another hundred smaller ones.

[UPDATE: A Canadian friend noted that I missed Blackberry Messenger (BBM) in the list and while I admittedly don't think about BBM that much these days, he's right that there is still a population that uses it on their smartphones.]

And yes, these are all separate "walled gardens" of propriety messaging (as I wrote about back in 2007, although the names have changed substantially). You can't message someone on a different system. You both have to be part of the same system - or potentially the system may fall back to sending a SMS message as iMessage does.

The attempts to lock Internet users into closed, proprietary walled gardens continues.

Make your app easy and simple to use... and get the most people using your app so that they won't want to switch to some other app.

The Broader OTT War For Mobile Communications

Notice, too, that Facebook mentions using Messenger for "voice calls". With this on iOS they are clearly aiming to take on Apple's "Facetime Audio" that Apple now presents as an option each time you make a call. And they can take on Microsoft's Skype and Google's Hangouts.

Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

All trying to be THE app/service that you use for communication on your mobile device. (And you can probably expect folks like Amazon to enter the game at some point, too.)

Giants on the playground.

And who is missing are the past giants of telecom. The "telcos"... the "carriers"... the "service providers". They are well on their way to being commoditized down to "big, fat, dumb pipes" of data... and they don't like that.

Hence you see them trying to coming out with their own apps and services (as Telefonica has done) or trying to come out with a rival offering such as Joyn (which Dean Bubley rips apart while pointing out the fallacy of talking of the "messaging market")... or using their control of the underlying data network to slow or block services... or using their powerful lobbying capabilities to attempt to get governments to regulate or intervene.

THIS is why so many of the upcoming ITU events matter. THIS is why the discussions on "network neutrality" matter.

The war for the future of mobile communications is well underway... and Facebook's move this week is just part of that much larger battle.

Even if that move will severely annoy Facebook users like me... most of whom will, of course, suck it up and install Messenger... because whether we like it or not we do want to communicate with Facebook users while mobile.


You can also listen to audio commentary on this topic:


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Skype 4.2.1 for iPad/iPhone Brings Microsoft Integration, Chat Interop, Better IM Features

Skype for ipadSkype today brought its increased integration with Microsoft services to the iPhone and iPad with the new release 4.2.1 available in the iOS AppStore. As you can already do in the Windows, Mac and Android versions of Skype, the big feature is that you can now sign in with your "Microsoft account" and merge our Skype contacts with those from Windows Live Messenger (WLM) and Outlook.com. You will now be able to chat back and forth with your WLM contacts directly from within Skype.

This is very cool from the point-of-view that Skype has always been a "walled garden" of instant messaging (IM) that did not interoperate with any other service. Many of us long ago wound up having to use two IM clients on our system: 1) Skype; and 2) a multi-service client (like Adium or Pidgin) for all the other IM networks. This doesn't quite solve that problem because it is now really just expanding the Skype client to work with two IM networks, but it is at least a step toward greater interop.

In a post on Skype's "Garage" blog, Beom Soo Park indicates these new features:

  • Sign in with your Microsoft Account to merge your Windows Live Messenger, Outlook.com and Skype accounts - then IM those contacts direct from Skype. 
  • Ability to edit and delete instant messages 
  • Choose an emoticon while typing an instant message via a new emoticon picker 
  • Animated emoticons for devices with a Retina display
  • Edit phone numbers from the dial pad
  • Create a new Skype account when you download the app 
  • UI improvements

Skype's post on their "Big Blog" has a bit more detail and mentions that Skype for iOS has now been downloaded over 120 million times.  The improvements to the chat interface, particularly the editing, will definitely be useful.  I personally don't really care about the improved emoticons, but I know some people do like those and will be pleased.

My only criticism is that in order to make use of the Microsoft integration you have to log out of your Skype account and then login with your Microsoft account, at which point you presumably can merge the accounts.  It's not a big deal to me, as I don't use a "Microsoft account" these days.  I certainly did have a WLM login that I used to use years ago, but I haven't used it in years and don't really feel any compelling need to do so.  Still, it would be nice if the Microsoft account could just be added to your existing Skype login as you can do in so many other IM clients.

Anyway, Skype 4.2.1 for iOS/iPad/iPhone is now out there and ready for download from the AppStore.

P.S. If you installed Skype 4.2 yesterday, you'll need to go back to the AppStore today to get Skype 4.2.1 as there were some critical bugs that were fixed in 4.2.1.


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Watch the Royal Wedding? Or talk about XMPP? Join VUC on April 29th for an XMPP-fest

VucSo which would you rather do? Watch the Royal Wedding? Or talk about all things XMPP with a bunch of VoIP and telephony geeks?

If you'd prefer the latter, then join the VUC conf call at 12 noon US Eastern on Friday, April 29, for a lengthy dive into all things XMPP. (XMPP being the "Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol" originally known as the Jabber protocol.)

As noted on the show page the session will feature Emil Ivov of Jitsi.org (formerly SIP Communicator) and Thiago Rocha Camargo (of Nimbuzz) and is going to cover a whole range of topics:

  • What is XMPP/Jabber
  • How does one do telephony with XMPP
  • How does XMPP/Jingle compare to SIP and (why) is it better.
  • Who supports it
  • Facebook and their XMPP gateway
  • Google Talk
  • Nimbuzz – one of the biggest VoIP providers using XMPP as their primary protocol
  • NAT traversal
  • How does one do it with XMPP
  • Again, how is this part different from what we have with SIP
  • Media relaying with TURN and Jingle Nodes

I am a big fan of XMPP on the IM/messaging side so I'm very much looking forward to this conversation.

You can join the live call via SIP, Skype or the regular old PSTN. There is also an IRC backchannel that gets heavy usage during the call. It will be recorded so you can always listen later.


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How To Set A Skype Chat So That New Arrivals See (Some) Chat History

skypelogo-shadow.pngWould you like to make it so that when you add someone to a Skype chat they automagically see some of the recent history of the chat? So that people joining a team or a project can rapidly come up to speed on what has been discussed?

This turns out to be ridiculously easy to do in a Skype group chat. An administrator for the chat simply has to type in the chat window:

/set options +HISTORY_DISCLOSED

After this, anyone joining the chat will see recent history. Per Skype's FAQ on chat commands:

Joiners can see the conversation that took place before they joined. The limit that they can see is either 400 messages or two weeks of time, depending on which is reached first.

I've enabled this setting on a number of chats for which I am an admin, and it's definitely helped newcomers come up to speed on what is being discussed in the chat. (Of course, some of those chats are very busy and so 400 messages may only take you back a very short period of time.)

Note, again, that you must be an administrator of a Skype chat for this command to actually execute. You can type it if you are just a user in the chat, and Skype won't tell you that it didn't execute... but it won't. You have to be an admin.

BROKEN IN SKYPE 5.1?

Now, having said all this, I recently had two people join a Skype chat and not get any history upon joining. In asking what Skype version they were using, it turned out both were running the new Skype 5.1 on Windows. Did this chat history feature get broken in Skype 5.1? I don't know... and given that I have no Windows machines around to test, I can't tell you for sure.... but I thought I'd mention it in case you have people joining a chat and not getting any history. You may want to find out what version of Skype they are using.

P.S. Note that this is VERY different from the "/history" command in the IRC-style commands for Skype I recently wrote about. The "/history" command loads the chat history ON YOUR COMPUTER into the window for the chat. However, this history is only available for the time that you have been in the chat. You are NOT able to get the history of the chat before you joined. The only way to get that previous history automatically is if an admin set the option described in this post before you joined the chat. Once you are in a chat, the only real way to get chat history is to ask someone else to copy/paste their history either directly to you or in the chat itself.


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How To Use IRC-style Commands In A Skype Chat

skypelogo-shadow.pngMany folks who are new to using Skype for group chat may not be aware that Skype brings along some of the commands that are popular in IRC chat systems - and the general "/" style of commands used in IRC. To see the list of commands, simply go into any Skype chat (it could even be a chat with only one other person) and type the following command:
/help

This will work on old and new versions of Skype and will give you a list of what commands are available:

Available commands:
/add [skypename]
/help
/topic [new topic]
/me
/history
/leave
/goadmin
/get creator
/get role
/whois [skypename]
/setrole [skypename] MASTER|HELPER|USER|LISTENER
/kick [skypename]
/kickban [skypename]
/get guidelines
/set guidelines [text]
/get options [text]
/set options [[+|-]flag] ...
/setpassword [password] [password hint]
/clearpassword
/get password_hint
/set password_hint [text]
/set password [text]
/get banlist
/get allowlist
/set banlist [[+|-]mask] ...
/set allowlist [[+|-]mask] ...
/alertson [text to match]
/alertsoff
/call [skypename[,skypename,...]]

You simply type any of these commands into a chat and, assuming you have permission to run the command, the action will occur. The full list of commands and options is available at this URL:

http://www.skype.com/go/help.chathelp

If you are the administrator of a chat, you have access to the full list of commands. You are an admin if you either are the original creator or a chat - or were promoted to an admin by another admin using the /setrole command.

I personally use "/me" a good bit to attempt to add emotion into a text chat (ex. "/me laughs"). I also use /alertson and /alertsoff quite a bit to change whether or not I am notified of new messages in a chat. (I'll note that the recent Skype clients also have a GUI way to do this typically through a menu choice of "Chat Notification Settings...".)

I also administer a number of chats and so use /setrole to give others admin privileges and also /kick and /kickban to remove people from chats.

There are also a few other commands that aren't listed (try /info), but this list has most of the ones I'm aware of.

Anyway, try out these commands... they may help you work more quickly with Skype chats!

P.S. Users of Skype 5.0 have an additional command, "/golive", that I described in an earlier post and that provides a simple way to launch conference calls.


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Skype and the Incredible Power of Persistent Group Chats

What is one reason why many people continue using Skype for chat / instant messaging when so many other solutions are out there? Particularly when Skype chat is a closed, proprietary "walled garden" that doesn't interact with IM networks?

After I wrote recently about being a huge user of Skype, Michael Graves asked in the comments why an organization like Voxeo that is so insanely devoted to open standards (and even uses a tagline of "Unlocked Communications") would use something as closed as Skype?

It's a great question, and while I answered his comment, it bears a bit more exploration.

In 3 words, the largest reason for using Skype is this:

persistent group chats

Being a globally distributed company, Voxeo is an IM-centric organization and we set up "group chats" within Skype for pretty much every activity we're doing. Some of those are long-living group chats for communication within various teams or groups of people. Those chats may continue to exist for literally years and have people added and removed to them over time. Some group chats are created for short-term projects or deliverables. And some may be created ad hoc for resolving quick issues - and then disbanded as soon as the issue is dealt with. If a customer has a problem, an alert may be posted in one of our "main chats" and then a "side chat" is formed with the specific group of people who can help right then to resolve whatever the problem will be.

It's a very effective way to work once you get used to it (and learn how to use Skype's ability to notify you of certain types of activity in chats). I have probably 50+ chats open in my Skype client right now, most of which are having little or no traffic at the moment, but a few of which are having active discussions.

The Power of Persistent Group Chats

But what I described as an IM-centric workflow could be accomplished by any chat system... why Skype? This comes down to the difference between typical "group chat" systems and "persistent group chat" systems.

Skypechats.jpgHere's the basic scenario of why this is so powerful:

1. I GO OFFLINE - Perhaps I'm going offline for a meeting. Maybe I'm about to board a plane. Maybe I'm shutting off my system at the end of the day.

2. PEOPLE DISCUSS ITEMS IN MY ABSENCE - The messages in the chat continue to be exchanged, discussions happen, decisions get made, etc., etc.

3. I COME BACK ONLINE - My meeting is over. I landed at my destination. My work day starts. Whatever...

4. I RECEIVE *ALL* THE MESSAGES THAT OCCURRED IN THE CHAT WHILE I WAS OFFLINE - Bingo... I can just scan through everything that happened while I was offline and get caught up on what happened while I was away. Now this sometimes may take a few minutes (for a reason I'll discuss below) and isn't always perfect, but most of the time it works incredibly well.

There is immense collaboration power in this capability. Given that I travel a good bit speaking at conferences I spend a great deal of time on planes. I'll often be working at the airport prior to departure and will be interacting with others via Skype. I'll close my laptop, fly to wherever I'm going, and then open the laptop back up either at the destination airport or at the hotel or office or wherever. Over the course of a minute or two, my Skype client automagically catches up and gives me the full history (subject to a caveat below) of all the discussions that occurred while I was in transit.

Similarly, with globally distributed teams where we may have engineers in Germany, the US and China all collaborating on a project, persistent group chats allow them to rapidly catch up on what occurred when each group was offline.

Of course, if you are offline for a longer period of time, you might come back to literally thousands of messages and want to just "catch up" and mark all old messages as viewed. This was why I was displeased that Skype removed the "Mark All Viewed" button from the Skype 5.0 Beta for Mac client (and I do hope they'll bring it backUPDATE: Skype did bring the feature back in the production release of the Skype 5.0 Mac client).

UPDATE: - Another aspect of working offline bears mentioning. Recently, I shut down my computer and got on a flight. While in the air, I went through a Skype chat, read all the messages and wrote a whole bunch of responses into the chat. When I landed, I connected to the free WiFi at the airport and Skype went through its sync process, pulling down all the chat messages that occurred while I was in the air and posting to the chat all the messages I had written while in the air. I then shut down and traveled from the airport to my hotel, where I once again opened up my laptop, reconnected with Skype and received all the messages that people had written while I was in transit from the airport.

This ability to read and write while offline is a powerful capability. In the past I've had flights with a long layover and performed a similar process. Reading and writing on the first leg, syncing at the layover to get new messages, and then reading those and responding to them on the second leg of my trip.

But why Skype?

But, you say, there are other "persistent group chat" implementations out there... why Skype? Simply because it is the best implementation of persistent group chats we've found so far. Add to that the simplicity of usage, the fact that it has a solid Mac client (and we're a Mac shop), the fact that it can connect from pretty much any location we're in... and the fact that it uses encrypted communication channels.

Having said all this, we're not wed to Skype.... we certainly keep an eye out on other communication tools and have a number of ideas ourselves... if we found something that worked as well and had an open architecture, we'd certainly look at it... but today we use what works - and works well.

The Technology Behind Skype's Persistent Group Chats

If you are not familiar with the underlying technology behind Skype, you may want to pause here and ready my post, "A Brief Primer on the Tech Behind Skype, P2PSIP and P2P Networks".

If you think about Skype's P2P architecture a bit, the technology behind their implementation of persistent group chats is intriguing. In a typical client/server IM network (like AIM, Yahoo, Jabber, IRC, etc.), the clients are communicating with a server and all the chat messages are stored on the server. Other server-based systems can implement persistent group chats by storing all the messages on the server and then sending them out to clients that re-connect to the server.

But with Skype, there are no servers. Instead, the chat messages get stored in the fabric of the P2P overlay network that interconnects the Skype clients to each other - and more specifically within each of the various Skype clients participating in the group chat.

When your Skype client comes back online, it initiates connections out to other clients that are members of the same chat and requests updates for what messages were sent in the chat while your client was offline. I don't know the exact number of clients your client will reach out to, but conversations with folks from Skype in the past seemed to indicate your client would reach out to a maximum of 15 other clients to find out what was in the chat. (Assuming there are more than 15 people in the chat. If not, obviously it only reaches out to those clients in the chat.)

For EACH group chat that you have.

So if you have a lot of Skype group chats, like I do, you can understand why Skype might trigger security systems at hotels when it goes off to do its initial sync with other Skype clients, purely by the sheer volume of network connections it opens up.

This does bring up one caveat with Skype that I referenced above. Depending upon the size of the chat and the availability of all participants, the full history may not be immediately available. If you are in a chat with 4 people, and the other 3 are offline when you come back online, you won't see the history until others come online. If one other person is online, you will get the history from that other client... which may be the full history, depending upon whether that client was online all the time. You see where I'm going with this... it may take a bit for you to get the full history.

In larger chats, I've seen less of an issue with this because odds are that more people will be online at any time and so your client can receive updates (although there is an edge case that I'll write about sometime). In smaller chats, though, I've seen update issues like this.

All in all it is an intriguing implementation from a technology point-of-view... as someone working with networks for years, I admit to being fascinated by it all. :-)

P.S. It's amusing to also look at what I wrote about Skype's persistent group chats back in January 2007... little did I know how much I would come to use them!


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Phono - Your new, free tool for Rewiring the Real-time Web!

phonolivesintheweb.jpgWhat if you could have customers call in to your call center from directly within your web browser?  No "click to call" that calls them back on their cell phone... but literally just press a button on your web site and start talking?  And get connected directly to the team appropriate to the web page rather than a generic inbox?

What if you could do this with more than just voice... but also video?  screen sharing?  with better audio quality than the legacy telephony network (the PSTN)?

What if you could also add in live chat sessions directly from your website? Giving you true multi-channel interaction with your customers?

And what if you could do this without any downloads by the customer?

Even better... what if this could be done with your branding? and connecting to ANY IP communications system?

Announcing Phono

Today at the JQuery Conference in Boston, the Voxeo Labs team is announcing Phono a new software development kit that lets you create apps just like the ones I mentioned. It's free, it's "skinnable" and it works with any systems that use SIP or XMPP (Jabber). More info here:

The Phono SDK is free to download and use. You can also naturally follow Phono on Twitter or Facebook.

You can use it to connect to your IP-PBX... to applications on platforms like Tropo... or really any other IP communications / Unified Communications platform.

FAR More Than Just A Softphone

That last part is really the point... the Phono SDK being shown today is far more than "just" a softphone. Sure... that's what some of the first reference implementations are all about. Things like Twelephone that let you easily call all your Twitter friends... or Facebook Telephone that lets you call your Facebook Friends. You'll see some more apps like that in the coming weeks.

But Phono is more than that...

Phono is a toolkit for Rewiring the Real-time Web

We as an industry need to drop the shackles of the legacy telephone network... we need to move beyond the PSTN in true rich collaboration between people... wherever they may be.

Voice, chat, video, screensharing... whatever mode they want to work in... from basic web browsers to mobile devices...

Phono is our contribution to that... and to taking away friction from developers wanting to build communications apps that make the most of the new tools and media we have available to us.

Try it out!

We're excited to see what you'll do with it!


Extra bonus... here's a video intro:


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Free Webinar tomorrow - Unified Self-Service: one app for voice, SMS, IM, web and Twitter

unifiedselfservice-200.jpgAre you interested in how you can service customer requests across all the different communication channels they might use? Do you want to give your customers a choice in the way they interact with you? Rather than requiring them to call in to a customer service phone number, do you want to let them send you a text message? Or an IM? Or use Twitter?

If so, you may be interested in a free webinar I am giving tomorrow, Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 11:00 am US Eastern time titled "Unified Self-Service: Creating multi-channel communications apps using Voxeo tools". You can register for free.

I'll be talking about this concept we call "Unified Self-Service" where you can create a single application that interacts with customers across multiple communication channel (but not necessarily using the exact same user interface). It's a topic I blog about on Voxeo's site and mention in our various presentations.

Perhaps obviously to long-time readers, I have an interest in the "social" side of the communication, particularly as we talk about "Social CRM" and engaging with customers through social channels. You can naturally expect to hear me talk about that tomorrow as well.

Registration is free... and if you can't attend, the session will be archived for later viewing from our Developer Jam Session page (and if you register, we'll let you know when the archive is posted).

It's a fun topic... and I'm looking forward to the conversation we'll have tomorrow.


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Do the IM protocol wars even matter? Adium and the continued *client* unification of IM...

Do you care any more about zillion different IM services? Do you care about the IM protocol wars that have plagued the usage of IM for the last years?

Odds are that if you are an IM user like me, you probably don't. Why not? Simple... we've unified the IM services on the client side and basically stopped caring about the various services and protocols.

adiumaccounttypes.jpgI was reminded of this fact this morning when I received a message saying that an update was available for Adium on my Mac that solved a really annoying disconnection problem with Yahoo!Messenger. (And if you are a Yahoo IM user, you really need to get the 1.3.2b1 beta.)

[NOTE: An equivalent to Adium for Windows or Unix/Linux users is Pidgin.]

Somewhat ironically, there was a discussion going on in a Skype groupchat in which I participate about the various IM protocols and whether anyone really used GTalk, etc. Since I was updating Adium at the time, I took a moment to look at all the different protocols that Adium now supports... as seen in the screenshot on the right side of this post. If I look at my own usage, I use Adium to unify:

  • AIM (two accounts)
  • MSN/Windows Live Messenger
  • Yahoo!Messenger (two accounts)
  • Google Talk
  • Jabber (two more other than GTalk)
  • LiveJournal
  • Facebook
  • Bonjour
All of those in one client with one directory of users and one window for chats (each on their own tab - and yes, I could have chats in separate windows but I generally choose not to do so).

It's a beautiful thing.

Now you might say... so why do you have all these services, anyway? Well, I've been online since the mid-1980's and generally my work has always involved keeping up with new technology, so I've always dabbled in various services and slowly you develop this accretion of new IM accounts - each that different friends and others use. At one point I did run multiple clients but now just for my own sanity I use just one IM client (actually two, but more on that below).

THE ENTERPRISE ANGLE

The curious aspect that caught my attention was the support Adium has for enterprise IM systems. The list directly includes Lotus Sametime and Novell GroupWise. Jabber support can of course work with internal Jabber servers and SIP/SIMPLE support could work with platforms supporting SIMPLE. Does that include Microsoft OCS? I don't know, but it would be interesting if it did.

What's great about all this is that you again have a single IM client that lets you have a single directory for corporate contacts as well as personal contacts. Adium's interface nicely lets you have a single entry for a person with multiple IM contacts, so you can unify your directory to be able to reach people in different contexts.

THE DOWN SIDE

The down side of a single client is that of course you are in the old "jack of all trades, master of none" scenario. You can receive IM messages from all the various services. You can send IM messages to them. But you can't necessarily use all the features of the given service. You have one set of status states, which may or may not map to all the status states available on your service (for instance, maybe the IM service has a status "out for dinner"). I haven't tried it with recent Adium builds, but in the past when I wanted to do an encrypted Jabber session, I had to switch to using Psi. I haven't tried file transfer using the various services via Adium, so I don't know how that works. I'm not aware that voice and video works over those services via Adium. Each IM service tries to differentiate with unique features - and they aren't always supported by all-in-one clients like Adium.

The other down side is "status messages" or "mood messages" that you can set in the IM clients. I have absolutely no idea what my status message in GTalk is, for instance, because I never use it in its native form in a web browser or as a standalone client. I have no idea what my MSN advisory message is for the same reason. Now maybe there's a way to set that in Adium which I don't know about... but maybe not. It's the price you pay for using a unified client.

Now, on the plus side, you never see the ads that IM services wrap their own IM clients in. (Which of course is a down side for the service provider.)

THE MISSING IM SERVICE

If you look at that long list of IM services with which Adium can interconnect, there is one obvious glaring omission:

Skype

When I wrote earlier that I actually have to run two IM clients, it's because Skype does not allow Adium (or other all-in-one IM clients) to interconnect to its network. So I run two IM clients:

  • Skype to IM with Skype contacts
  • Adium to IM with contacts on all the other services

Now the reality is that I can't see technically how a client like Adium would join into the P2P clouds that make up Skype groupchats. Skype's P2P architecture is very different from the server-based architecture of all the services listed above. So it may be that such an interconnect may not be possible for group chats... and since I use those extensively, I might always have to be running the Skype client natively. Still, there might be a way to interconnect via SIP/SIMPLE... and perhaps that's something Skype will consider as part of the larger Skype interconnect issues.

SO DO WE CARE ABOUT IM PROTOCOL WARS?

I don't. I've opted out of the battle by using a unified IM client. Sure, I may lose out on some of the unique features of the different services... but I have one directory and one way to send and receive IM messages.

What about you? Do you use a unified IM client like Adium or Pidgin? Or do you run multiple clients? Or do you only use one service?

P.S. Walt Mossberg over at the Wall Street Journal had a post on this issue reviewing some other clients back in August.

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