If you believe comments made recently in discussion boards and blogs across the Internet, search giant Google is developing an instant messaging initiative.
The gist of the speculation is that in addition to leveraging its existing assets and expertise in search technologies, IM would allow Google to complete a communication platform that includes Gmail (its Web mail system) and Orkut (its community networking portal). Reports also indicate that Google’s IM platform and client would be based on the open source Jabber protocol.
Google officials were unavailable for comment to either confirm or deny the rumor.
The Jabber Software Foundation (JSF), however, was available for comment. Peter Saint-Andre, executive director of the JSF, told InstantMessagingPlanet that the JSF always welcomes implementations and deployments of the Jabber protocols, which is also known as the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP).
“It is all speculation at this point, but if Google should choose to offer an IM service based on Jabber/XMPP technologies, they would be a welcome partner in the Jabber community’s continuing efforts to ensure interoperability in instant messaging,” Saint-Andre said.
He went on to detail that many high-profile companies such as IBM, HP, SUN and Oracle have already adopted Jabber/XMPP technologies, though he admits that the Google adoption would have a different sort of impact.
“Google’s impact would perhaps be more dramatic as their offering is likely an open, consumer-oriented service and their brand recognition is obviously at historic levels,” Saint-Andre said.
Industry Open to Google’s Entry
Members of the instant messaging community, including the leading open source instant messaging client implementation Gaim, are enthusiastic about the opportunities that Google may bring to Jabber/XMPP.
“I would love to see Google get involved in the IM world,” Gaim lead developer Sean Egan told InstantMessagingPlanet.com. “They have enough pull on the Internet to possibly convert people en masse to Jabber, which is what Jabber needs. Gaim and plenty of other clients already support Jabber, so Google’s IM users would have a wide selection of clients as soon as it launched.”
“This could potentially be what brings Jabber into the eye of the general public,” Egan said.
Part of the wild speculation surrounding the Google IM rumor also supposes that beyond being a potential tipping point for Jabber, a Jabber-based Google IM platform would supplant the already established public IM clouds of AOL, MSN and Yahoo.
Radicati Group Market Analyst Genelle Hung, however, doesn’t buy into that hype despite the support a Google IM platform would inevitably get.
“There would probably be a lot of grass-roots support — especially with consumers being unhappy with the ‘big 3’ [AOL, MSN, Yahoo!] for constantly changing their protocols and thus causing third-party clients such as Trillian and Gaim to break,” Hung said. “An IM client based on open standards and APIs might be just what is needed to push further for IM standards and interoperability. However, I cannot believe that everyone on the other clients would hop over to the Google IM service anytime in the near future (should it happen) as IM is one of the “stickiest” and most loyalty-inducing features on the market today.”
Jabber Software Foundation’s Saint-Andre also agrees that a Jabber-based Google IM product wouldn’t force the other IM services into nonexistence. He said he also sees a potential for industry standardization based a Jabber/XMPP Google service.
“In the short run, it is difficult to see why the IM services provided by AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo would disappear simply because Google started its own IM service,” Saint-Andre said. “On the other hand, Google entered the search engine market at a time when Yahoo! dominated a very crowded market. Moreover, the existence of an open IM service offered by a company of Google’s stature would combine with the large number of enterprise deployments to put significant pressure on the existing consumer services to offer true server-to-server interoperability.”
Good for Jabber, Bad for Standardization?
IM Security and management vendor FaceTime Communications sees the situation somewhat differently. FaceTime Chief Technology Officer and Vice President of Products Jonathan Christensen said he believes that the recent move by the MSN, AOL and Yahoo! to allow for interoperable enterprise gateways is a simple fact that should not be overlooked. Christensen explained that big three vendors have now made a move to standardize on SIP/SIMPLE and open source Jabber protocol XMPP is not part of that equation. SIMPLE, Christensen argues, already has a lot traction, owing to its SIP roots, that cannot be overlooked.
“If Google were to announce and run a Jabber-based system , rather than a tipping point for Jabber it would just be another point of fragmentation in the marketplace and another force potentially slowing consolidation in the industry,” Christensen said.
That said, Christensen does recognize the fact that Jabber Inc has recently announced that it was working on providing an XMPP to SIP Gateway, to allow for interoperability on IBM’s Lotus IM product (SameTime). It’s unclear and unknown at this point if Google would go with a commercial implementation from Jabber Inc or work with the open source version of Jabber from the JSF.
The Unknown Google Stepchild
Outside of speculation, there is a currently little known reality about Google’s current IM capabilities. It actually already has an IM tool and it’s publically avaialbale — it’s not even a Google Beta or a Google Labs project. Google though its acquisition of Blogger last year also acquired a company called Picassa, which also offer an instant messaging service. The IM technology is called Hello and is currently focused on instant messaging between people to share pictures and now to post pictures to a blog. Hello is currently available only for Windows and uses a proprietary protocol.
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