Instant messaging is old, it predates the Internet, first appearing on multi-user operating systems like Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS) and Multiplexed Information and Computing Service (Multics) in the mid-1960s, its older than me! During the bulletin board system (BBS) phenomenon that peaked during the 1980s, some systems incorporated chat features that were similar to instant messaging, e.g. Freelancin’ Roundtable. Also an important note from history is that many popular internet services end up being fads. In the latter half of the 1980s and into the early 1990s, the Quantum Link online service for Commodore 64 computers (that was my first computer, followed by the Atari ST) offered user-to-user messages between concurrently connected customers, which was called On-Line Messages (OLM), and later FlashMail. Quantum Link later became America Online and made AOL Instant Messenger (AIM).
Modern, Internet-wide, GUI-based messaging clients (Graphical User Interface), began to take off in the mid-1990s with PowWow, ICQ, and AOL Instant Messenger. In 2000, an open source application and open standards-based protocol called Jabber was launched. The protocol was standardized under the name Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP). XMPP servers could act as gateways to other IM protocols, reducing the need to run multiple clients. Multi-protocol clients can use any of the popular IM protocols by using additional local libraries for each protocol. But it failed to achieve wide adoption like SMTP (email). Lotus Sametime implemented XMPP in 2007, but its business model is different to most free web services, Gtalk does use XMPP but its servers do not federate with XMPP.
Some of the benefits of XMPP are:
- XMPP provides authentication;
- XMPP provides efficient real-time two-way connectivity
- Any application can use XMPP for communication. It is more secure and efficient for clients than if each application used, say, TCP sockets; and XMPP is scalable.
- XMPP extensions can implement various services, such as the initiation of VoIP, location broadcasting, information exchange via web services, etc.
Most IM networks remained silos, as their business model is about locking-in customers, they made changes to prevent them from being used by multi-network IM clients. For example, Trillian had to release many revisions and patches to allow its users to access the MSN, AOL, and Yahoo! networks. At one point I had Skype, MSN, AOL and Yahoo IM clients running on my desktop (good job it was connected to the mains) until most people in my contact lists consolidated into Skype. The use of proprietary protocols has meant that many instant messaging networks are incompatible and users are unable to reach friends and contacts on other networks. This has cost the instant messaging dearly; as we see today MSN Messenger, Yahoo IM, AIM (AOL IM) are all been in decline as IM became embedded in other services. Skype set the bar in enabling a rich communication service beyond IM, unfortunately it’s not kept up with the market as it was bought and sold and now providers like Tango, Whatsapp, Viber, etc. are offering a richer experience with an eye on being bought by Facebook for $1B+. IM capabilities are also becoming embedded in browsers with WebRTC, as discussed in this previous weblog article
So will today’s OTT providers suffer the same fate as the IM clients of being a passing fad because their model fundamentally aims to lock-in customers to their service which stops them becoming any more than a ‘nice to have’, which then withers on the vine as they simply do not enable successful communications beyond their silo? That’s what the market is going to decide. Even if Tango is bought by Facebook, Facebook is not a pervasive network, for reasons of customer behavior and market penetration. Facebook’s model, like that of the OTT providers is about lock-in and creating a ‘private internet where the users are the product on sale.’ Hence why Open Social has never taken off beyond enterprise applications (where the business model is different.)
Joyn has the potential to offer a more successful communications experience nationally as it works across all operators with an enriched communication experience similar to the OTT providers. In the limit a customer’s preferred service will be the one that just works and happens to be bundled with their mobile ISP (Internet Service Provider) bill. Yes I did say that, mobile, like fixed has, is moving towards the ISP model. And telco boards need to get serious about their Joyn strategy as discussed in the IMS World Forum summary rather than playing around in the hope the world remains the same. This is the fundamental advantage of telcos, their business model is different to OTT, they’re focused on the customers needs as they take their money, which means cross-operator services initially at a national level are essential to remain relevant.
Just as Trillian appeared in the IM scenario, its possible an OTT OTT provider could try to aggregate across many communication clients, offering a “lowest possible cost for the greatest chance of communications success.” Smartphone’s communication experience does that today in giving you a range of communication options when you select a contact. Smartphone platforms are happy to implement whatever gives the people buying their phones a better experience, while the OTT providers will see the OTT OTT feature as disaggregating them from their users, so will likely copy what the IM platforms did in restricting the experience though perhaps not blocking it completely.
Its become fashionable to use OTT on lots of slideware to justify whatever message is being given, but please look back at history to see that OTT has its challenges as well because free means silos, and customers need things to just work. There will be continued substitution of revenue as discussed in the end of year weblog article and in the services domain report. But things are not black and white (I’ve warned previously on the plague of black of white thinking), its shades of grey, but the grey is getting darker through continued inaction, reacting not thinking, and lack of commitment.