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Debate: XMPP Won’t Bring Universal IM

This is part of an occasional series where Ferris Research analysts and friends state opinions that are opposed by other Ferris staff. In this post, Richi Jennings disagrees with Steve Kille’s opinion that XMPP will be the unifying force leading to widespread interoperability among instant messaging systems.

Last week, Steve talked about how XMPP (aka the Jabber protocol) is going to be the catalyst that will cause today’s islands of proprietary instant messaging to interoperate. I’d like to offer an opposing viewpoint.

Providers of proprietary IM services — notably Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL — don’t want interoperability. It conflicts with their business models because it would cause a loss of control. These IM services exist because their owners can sell advertising and because they believe it adds "stickiness" to their broader consumer platforms. Without control over their platforms, this business model would be dead in the water.

The obvious counterexample to that is the experimental linkup between MSN/Live and Yahoo. However, this is still a closed linkup. It’s not using XMPP, or indeed any other protocol, in a way that allows open, third-party access to these closed networks. Permitting uncontrolled access to IM services would cause the very loss of control that the providers fear.

Even if providers decided they did want to open up their networks to interoperabilty, there’s history to consider. There’s widespread investment in SIP/SIMPLE — essentially a competing interoperability standard. Throwing away that investment would require a substantial motivator. Steve’s arguments that XMPP is a "better" choice aren’t going to cut it. Inertia is a powerful force.

And there’s a new development that makes it even less likely. The main economic force behind broad IM interoperability has been a coalition of GSM mobile phone networks, led by Vodafone and Orange. This group was working to bring IM interoperability to GSM handsets (via SIP). However, at this month’s 3GSM conference, Vodafone’s priorities were clearly elsewhere.

While we’ll continue to see unofficial IM network merging, using reverse-engineered technology from the likes of Trillian, there’s no incentive for the big three service providers to officially interoperate using open standards. Indeed, there’s plenty of disincentive.

Richi Jennings

One Comment

  1. Jeff Peddle
    Posted February 28, 2007 at 5:14 AM | Permalink

    I happen to agree with you, Richi. There is no benefit for the Public IM networks to provide interoperability to it users. The networks would then become, “just one” and the uniqueness of each would be lost.

    My company has built a business model around that fact. We offer an interoperable IM client (XMPP based) that can be; web based, client based or mobile based. All of the same features/functionalities (File Transfer, VoIP, File Sharing, White Boarding) of the Public IM networks with the addition of your own private secure IM network (for corporations). Our customer’s interest and growth over the past year suggests that your opinion is correct!

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