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Stowe Boyd is a well-known media subversive, and an internationally recognized authority on real-time, collaborative and social technologies. His new blog is Message.
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July 20, 2005

A Fragmented Instant Messaging World: An End In Skype?

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Posted by Stowe Boyd

I now run a bunch of instant messaging clients on my desktop, for a variety of boneheaded reasons:

  1. iChat - I am on the Mac, and iChat is really a cool way to interact with other Mac users, so long as they are likewise using iChat, that is. iChat also gateways to AIM and Jabber, so I use iChat as my client to talk to those worlds, but that can be less than optimal, since a number of the AIM and Jabber features don't work in iChat, or the other services don't support iChat style addresses. My handle is stoweboyd@mac.com, which various AIM services don't recognize as an AIM address, for example.
  2. I recently downloaded the Yahoo Messenger client, because I wanted some means to IM with Yahoo folks. I discovered that a/ the user interface is ugly, and b/ all the neato-cool features of the new Yahoo beta are not supported on Mac: that same old Windows-first approach of dissing all the Mac minority.
  3. I just have given up on Microsoft instant messaging solutions, primarily because of their antipathy for Mac. If they had ported Outlook to Mac, I probably would have stayed with it, since so many applications and services integrate with it (like Plaxo, for example), but I have made the jump over to Mail and iCal.
  4. I had tried to run various multiheaded instant messaging clients on the Mac, like Fire and Proteus, but they were maddening, so I have dropped them, at least until the time that someone comes up with a way to support more than just text interoperability. I really need audio and video.
  5. And then there is Skype. That has become the number two instant messaging solution for me, and often an IM chat in iChat becomes an audio call in Skype. I am considering swithching to Skype as my primary conduit, and most likely will do so when the video capability is debuted, later this year. There are several third party solutions, like vSkype and dialcom's spontania4IM, that support video, but they do not support Mac (Grrrr).

My pal, Stuary Henshall, who is perhaps the world's leading Skype head, sent me this message:

stuartjyve.jpeg

So I went to look at the Jyve Tools, and, yes, you guessed it, they only run on Windows. So I can't post the neato-cool chiclet on Get Real showing my Skype presence, as shown here.

The Apple folks ought to get with the big switch that is going on here, and make iChat integrate completely with Skype, or pay someone to build all these cool Skype related widgets for Mac. Because I think that Skype is building the kind of momentum and user base that could lead to a wholesale defection from the other services, and I for one am ready to quit.

Since Apple decided not to build a closed network of their own, nor to rely on the federated model of Jabber, they should licence Skype and build it into the next generation of iChat. Skype is already squarely in competition with Yahoo and Microsoft, given the strong push those companies are making toward VoIP in their instant messenging products, but Apple has seemingly let that battle go, choosing to not add VoIP into iChat.

So a tighter link with Apple is likely to be a good move for Skype, based on the principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Especially when Mac comes out with iPod Phone (including video!) and squares off with Microsoft in the looming monster battle for the living room: the little black box that will control the family's internet-based entertainment. It's going to be Apple, with the killer iPod brand and partnered with Intel, versus Microsoft's Xbox and Windows solutions. Apple lacks various key pieces of the puzzle -- like a viable game platform, instant messaging plus VoIP, and a tivo solution -- but Jobs is likely lining those pieces up.

And, just as a side effect, one outcome of that battle is likely to be consolidation of the fragmented instant messaging world. If and when someone wins that battle I believe it will be like Betamax/VHS, and the standard will become ubiquitous. Its early to call a winner, but Microsoft's flabby innovation these days when contrasted with iPod's market dominance in digital music makes me nod toward Apple. And if Skype wins big as a result, thats cool with me. I just want one buddylist, and if the government isn't going to force interoperability, llike they should, then I am rooting for an instant messaging monopoly. And please, God, don't let it be Microsoft.

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Technology | Telecommunications


COMMENTS

1. Usher Lieberman on July 20, 2005 05:15 PM writes...

I don't understand why the open source clients haven't integrated Skype yet or Skype hasn't integrated support for the other IMs...as you know IM (pun intended) a Jabber person, but because I deal with so many people who aren't I have to maintain a client that can interface with everything else, which actually means 3 clients (including Skype.)

It is an irritation I agree. But I think you'll see XMPP ultimately be adopted as the underlying transport for connecting all these systems and then someone else (quite possibly AOL) will figure out how to federate everything and make it make sense for everyone with a dog in this fight so that we can all use one client.

An interesting note, you may find that Jabber XCP will become the switch at the application layer that routes all of these messages arriving from the protocol soup, translates them into XMPP and then sends them back out for delivery.

Permalink to Comment

2. Julian Bond on July 21, 2005 03:04 AM writes...

The problem with Skype is that it's not open source, it's not SIP and it uses proprietary protocols so on one level it's the same problem as all the other IM programs. Set against that they've got the message that MS learnt in the early 90s and have since forgotten "Ship early, Ship often". And above all "It just works". Right now it's the only voice solution that "just works". It doesn't matter that the other IM programs are trying to push Voice, because "They just don't work".

Jabber, XMPP are to be admired for coming up with a completely open IM. But frankly the clients available now, suck. And it's pretty hard to see how they will add Voice and Video.

Back to Skype, the Skype API is pretty good and improving. But at the moment the easiest way to program with in it in any language is via a COM interface. So that counts out Mac. And although there is a Mac client and a Linux client (and pocketPC) they tend to be a release behind.

And because the protocol is proprietary, the only way of integrating Skype into multi-IM clients like Trillian is via the API with Skype running along side it. In which case why not just use the native client?

So Skype has shaken up the whole IM and VoIP world but it's actually more of the same. And even though I love it, I don't want to see Skype have a monopoly on an important internet application area any more than anyone else.

Permalink to Comment

3. Stowe Boyd on July 21, 2005 07:13 AM writes...

Usher -

I don't buy the vision that Jabber is going to ultimately conquer the world because XMPP is 'better' technically. Borrowing a quote from 'Selling The Invisible', I believe that "better isn't." I expect that a watershed event will lead to a de facto monopoly emerging that will solve the interoperability problem. It might be Google, releasing a killer browser with integrated Picasa Hello, or Yahoo doing something awesome with Yahoo 360 + My Web 2.0 + Flickr (remember there is an IM piece to Flickr), or the iPod Phone + iPod Home Entertainment Center + Skype contraption I waved my hands at in this piece. But I don't see Jabber getting integrated into those kinds of innovative products, do you?

Permalink to Comment

4. Dr. Wilson on July 21, 2005 06:04 PM writes...

Wavigo addresses the specific issue of multi-IM's amongst other things. It supports Yahoo, MSN, AOL, ICQ and Skype, in a single interface - and you can conference across them.

Wavigo is actually Communications, Information and Entertainment bundled into one. It has it's own p2p voice communications that can be linked to your IM buddies. So you can be IM'ing on any IM and initiate a VoIP call via Wavigo with one click. It also supports file transfer, SMS-Text messaging, along with the normal telephony features.

Wavigo has information services for News, Sports, Weather and Stock feeds with alerts. It also has advanced search and travel features.

Wavigo has a built-in full featured multi-media player for audio and video with karaoke. It also supports podcast feeds which can be played, added to playlists, or downloaded. You can even share media files your listening to with your Wavigo buddies.

Wavigo is currently available for Windows, and ports for Mac and linux are coming soon.

Permalink to Comment

5. Usher Lieberman on July 22, 2005 12:58 PM writes...

Julian - If proprietary protocols like AOL, Yahoo, and MSN can be
hacked with gateways to other protocols (such as XMPP) I do think someone will do the same with Skype.

Stowe - I disagree. I don't think there will be any one monopolizing event, I think the IM and presence universe will continue to grow in a
fragmented way and it will be difficult to get people to switch the IMs they're using...not necessarily for people like you and me, but my
mom and wife (who both use IM, and somewhat reluctantly at that) aren't going to switch (unless I install something new on their PCs.
That is where XMPP comes in, because it can be used as a universal transport between protocols.
I think there is a great opportunity for Jabber, Inc., but they are by no means assured of dominance. For XMPP I don't think it is a matter of conquering the world, it is a matter of the world growing apart quickly and needing something to keep it connected down the road, for which XMPP is the only protocol I'm aware of that can really be used to interconnect between other systems.

Permalink to Comment

6. Charles Carleton on July 23, 2005 07:42 PM writes...

Thanks Stowe, for your post on Jyve and the Jyve web tools,

As soon as Skype release their API for MAC, we will build a MAC version of Jyve so MAC users will also be able to display their Presence on web pages.

We will continue to provide products and services to help further “Skype enable the web” as well as bring a richer web experience to Skype users.


Please let us know if you have any suggestions, questions or would like more details.

Charles
Founder/CEO
www.Jyve.com
Come join the Skype community!

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