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IM Interoperability On The Horizon

Oh, what the heck. I made a prediction for the New Year yesterday, so I'm on a roll. Here's another, albeit no so far fetched prediction: We will see true interoperability between the major instant messaging services in 2006.

Hey! No fair, you cry. Microsoft and Yahoo! have already struck a deal to have their networks talking to each by mid next year. That's not a prediction, you say, it's just an expectation that they will carry through with the agreement.

Well, yes and no. We're still waiting to see what level of interoperability is actually achieved between the MSN and Yahoo! IM networks in 2006. But the larger question is whether the granddaddy of IM networks, AOL, is going to make an interoperability play.

So then you tell me that you can already get interoperability between disparate, competing IM platforms by using one of the third-party IM clients like Trillian or Meebo that allow access to all the major IM networks for text chatting and certain other features. True enough, but that's not "true" interoperability and they don't provide access to all the features provided on the native IM clients.But you deploy enterprise IM based on the SIP/SIMPLE protocol, you say, and through IM Federations you can offer your users access to all the major IM networks. OK, I'll allow that, but it's not the kind of interoperability that affects the entire market, just the enterprise IM platforms, and enterprise IM is still a small slice of entire IM pie.

You have to understand that IM has been around for nearly a decade and the fact that there is not a common messaging protocol is, well, sort of strange for a communications technology that has been used so broadly. But that's about to change. Through most of its history, IM has been treated more like a subscriber base than a communications technology. But the move into the enterprise has begun to alter that positioning.

Microsoft and Yahoo! were the first to acknowledge the fact that companies like Jabber, Antepo, and Omnipod, were filling a very real void. Heck, Microsoft launched its own enterprise platform with LCS. And enterprise users demand standards and common access from their communications technologies. They can't require their customers, suppliers, partners, etc. to join the club in order to make use of all the features of their messaging technology. That's just not game is played on the enterprise side.

In it's most recent Messaging Technology Report, the Radicati Group says the proposed interoperability between the MSN and Yahoo! IM networks has put the pressure on AOL to make a move. And that's not the only thing that will put pressure on AOL. New messaging services like Google Talk and Skype have also put AOL on notice that it's the access and the services, not the size of the captive user base, which will be important in the future.

AOL will be left with little choice but to open up its IM network, and it will do so before it loses traction to those that opened up first.