Where is the IM interoperability?

I’ve been hearing about how the various instant messaging platforms are going to interoperate“any day now” for several years. But it always seems that the various players involved never quite get it together. Windows Messenger connects with Yahoo! Messenger, but not AIM. iChat connects with AIM, but not Messenger. Jabber connects with everything, but not enough people use it.

There are some workarounds in the form of clients that can bridge different instant messengers: Trillian on the PC, and Adium on the Macintosh are two that I know of. But they generally have some drawbacks versus using the actual “native” client. They may not support all of the features, like video, audio, or “conference” chats with more than two participants. And the truth is, each person who uses instant messaging much at all has their favorite or “pet” features that only exist in one particular IM client.

Unfortunately, if one or more of your friends doesn’t use the same instant messaging client you do, you simply can not chat with them. Each IM client and chat network is like an island unto itself. I don’t think it is reasonable to expect users of one IM program or another to switch in order to chat with their friends. Nor is it much fun to have to run an IM program you don’t like. Yet that is, to a great extent, the situation today.

I wish the various IM providers would really and truly set aside their differences and agree on a standard to interconnect their services. But it seems like they are dragging their feet in an extreme way. What really doesn’t make sense to me is that none of them are actually directly making revenue off of their instant messaging client. Their income, if any, comes from advertising or the like that appears within the IM client itself. Trying to force people to use your particular IM client by excluding others seems to me to be a poor strategy to increase its use, but then I guess I’m not a marketer.

I suppose I could understand the reticence of the IM vendors to inter-operate if the only way it could be done was for each vendor to allow their “competitors” clients to connect directly to their infrastructure. But that *isn’t* the only way it can be done. In fact, it seems to me that a much smarter way to do things is to allow the services to interconnect at the back end. That is, have Messenger clients connect to Messengers servers, and iChat clients connect to .Mac servers, and have the Messenger and iChat servers talk to each other to route chat traffic between them.

Ah well: perhaps one day the major instant messaging applications will all interconnect in harmony, integrating full featured chats with video and audio regardless of each users particular messaging client preference.

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