IM Interoperability: GAIM 2.0b1

December 18, 2005

Social Networking, Technology

There are two means of providing IM interoperability. The first is true network interoperability. This model means that members on one network can communicate and interact with members on a different network. The Jabber community has followed this model for quite some time. When Gtalk came into existence, it joined dozens of previously existing networks that exploit XMPP (and Jabber). But the Jabber community did not ineroperate with AOL/ICQ, Yahoo or MSN Messenger.

Those days will change very soon. Microsoft (and others) are finally talking about bringing down the IM barriers that separate the various islands (and IM identities). Microsoft Live Messenger may show us the vanguard instance of this when it is released in the very near future.

But until the barriers are loosened (or removed completely), the only real means of maintaining a fully functional and interoperable identity is through a client that communicates with all the networks. The folks at Cerulean Studios have a licensed client called Trillian. It is a very cool client, but it is released in a fee-or-free model where a license fee entitles you to complete functionality.

In addition to Trillian, there is a stunning open source project called GAIM. The GAIM client can connect to every IM network that I am aware of. It supports presence as well as IM on these networks. And the latest beta delivers a simple and snazzy look. It will operate on almost every platform around – as long as you’re willing to install the GTK toolkit.

But these kinds of clients come with one key cost: you need to maintain an identity on all of the networks that you wish to operate within. And this will remain the case until there is a compelling reason for the netowrk providers to recognize and accept foreign identities. Will this happen soon? Who knows? But it reminds me of the email interoperability issues from the early-to-mid nineties. Everyone began to deliver SMTP trnasport and LDAP directory integration when all of the customers demanded it.

For now, I’m using GAIM – because I communicate with folks on many IM networks. So I must maintain an identity on all of them. Ick. I can’t wait till this will change. My only fear is that we will end up with another mess – like email. Today, email identity is not verified. Anyone can impersonate anyone. I used to demonstrate this by generating an email and setting my from address to I never sent such messages outside of our network, but they did prove the point quite effectively. In the case of IM, we will need to establish some recognizable entity to authenticate identity or we’ll have to trust that whoever calls themself by a name are entitled to use that name.




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