Yesterday’s confirmation of the rumored deal between Google and AOL brought one surprise – Google and AOL plan to make their instant messaging offerings – Google Talk and AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) – interoperate provided “certain conditions are met. Ben Charny at eWeek explains:
Integrating Google Talk and AIM will be done in a roundabout way, mostly to keep AOL and Google from exposing the valuable profile information customers must first provide to sign up.
In essence, the two IM networks will not be connected. Rather, Google’s Google Talk users must first sign up for an AIM account and screen name. They can then carry on a conversation with an AIM user by using their Google IM desktop dashboard.
Not exactly seamless, but interop nonetheless. It’s also interesting because Google is a leader in open standards for instant messaging:
Google Talk is built on XMPP, unlike competing and older IM systems from America Online Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc., all of which are based on proprietary technology.
By building its IM application on an open platform, Google took a significant stand on the side of interoperability, the main inconvenience affecting users of AOL’s AIM, Microsoft’s MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger. Google’s position was interpreted by some industry pundits as the motivation behind the decision announced in October by Yahoo and Microsoft to enable a degree of interoperability between their IM networks. The first results of that effort are expected in 2006.
AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft, which together control most consumer IM traffic, have been reluctant to link their IM networks for a variety of reasons, including concern over potential security breaches and worry of diluting the value for their advertisers if their audiences are no longer captive. However, analysts say, if Google Talk can draw a critical mass of users, and offer them interoperability with other IM networks that support XMPP, it could present a real challenge to the closed AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft services.
XMPP is the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol whose core protocols are under consideration by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). They were developed by the Jabber open source community. So will Google Talk speak AIM or AIM speak XMPP?
Also, the mention of the agreement by Microsoft and Yahoo to allow their IM offerings to interoperate, brings to mind that in 2003 Microsoft and AOL pledged to work on interoperation for their messaging products as well. Somehow, it just never happened. One would assume that that project is really off the table now.