IM 2003: Thoughts on Instant Messaging's Coming Year

The last 12 months saw sweeping changes in instant messaging. Now, industry insiders predict a number of new developments in the space, with implications for vendors, IT managers, marketers, and ultimately, end users.
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The last 12 months have seen sweeping changes filtering through the world of instant messaging, with a tightened focus on enterprise-class services and a number of new products entering the field. Now, industry insiders predict a number of new developments in the IM arena -- all of which have major implications for vendors, IT managers, marketers, and ultimately, end users.

First up: interoperability. A number of folks see compatibility coming down the pipe for the many currently closed messaging and presence systems. That's expected to contribute to industry growth, as buyers seek to tap into a business-class system for more than just internal communications.

Some feel that compatible systems will gain traction in the market only after IT staffs have spent much of the year simply coming to terms with IM in the workplace. Then, they can get to work on weighing their businesses' needs, which will then contribute to pressure on vendors to deliver interoperability.

"Initially, all will hope for an 'enterprise standard,' but realize this is not possible yet, and will spend time/money just getting IM under control," said FaceTime Communications Chief Executive Glen Vondrick. "There will be a continued emphasis/push by users to see interoperability measures taking place, with technology standards and gateways from EIM systems to support the public networks."

Whether America Online, Microsoft and Yahoo! themselves will take part in that trend, however, remains up in the air. With all three in the process of fielding enterprise IM products that offer tools to manage employees' use of free, public IM, some expect that the networks won't be able to shun compatibility for long.

"At least one of today's big three IM providers ... will join forces with other service providers and carriers to support open interoperability of IM and presence," said Rob Balgley, chief executive of Jabber, Inc.

Still, others anticipate the public networks' commitment to interoperability remaining below enterprises' level of need.

"While consumer instant messaging is all about 'community,' enterprise instant messaging is all about integration," said Jeremy Dies, senior offerings manager for presence and IM at IBM's Lotus Software. "The proliferation of SIP/SIMPLE will guarantee that enterprises can connect IM communities securely and privately, and will permanently limit the three major consumer networks to their intended purpose: letting consumers chat with each other."

Yahoo!, at least, agrees that the matter will come to a head in coming months, as it and rivals market their new offerings.

"We expect that this move from 'for free' to 'for fee' will drive some big open issues, such as interoperability and protocol standardization," said Ken Hickman, director of product strategy at Yahoo! Enterprise Solutions.

Application Integration as Industry Driver

In addition to the ability to link to external messaging systems, many also predict business-class instant messaging and presence offerings becoming increasingly tied into other enterprise applications.

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