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Get A Room, Already

New plot twists in the never-ending Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice saga of public messaging . . . As we spy on our free-loving foursome—Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL and Google—, we see them still in the throes of monogamy but don't expect that to last.

AOL has now cozied up with Google, leaving Microsoft somewhat rebuffed. I say "somewhat" because Microsoft has never been an easily discouraged suitor. Don't forget that Yahoo was also pursuing a similar deal with AOL. I guess that under the porch light only Google found AOL's charms irresistible.

For it's billion big ones, Google gets a 5-percent stake in AOL and continues to provide AOL with its search technology. In addition to some cross promotion stuff, Google also gets to run AOL-sold ads on the Google network and run AOL's video clips. So where's the gravy for Google?

I'm going to say it's in the instant messaging aspect of the deal. As long as Google's GoogleTalk customers sign up for an AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) screen name, they will be able to communicate directly with AIM users.The AIM network is the plum, the largest IM network in the world. The strength of a network is its ubiquity, and on its own GoogleTalk was a Johnny-Come-Lately.

Getting there first with AIM interoperability, ahead of Microsoft, is the real value. Google's search engine was a major magnet for AOL and Microsoft has been left holding the short stick with its own search technology.

On the other side, you'll remember Microsoft and Yahoo have agreed to provide interoperability between their respective IM networks, so Google saw that move and raised. There's still more cards to draw and bets to make. The voice and IM integration cards will make for very interesting wagering.

This is all good and fine for vendor posturing, but what does it mean for users? Probably nothing but good news. We all know that the numbers for IM installed base by network add up to more than 100 percent. In lieu of interoperability, we just signed up for everyone's free IM clients. That hasn't been our preference, just a necessity if we rely on IM to communicate.

So as we watch these online giants spark in the moonlight, we're looking forward to the day when they all just go inside together and get it done.