• United States

Converged messaging falls short

Jul 26, 20043 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMessaging AppsVoIP

My colleague Larry Hettick and I recently looked at several messaging programs, including AOL Instant Messenger, Skype and the Microsoft-oriented duo of MSN Messenger and Windows Messenger. Our conclusion was that while they are great in concept, all fall short of being ready for wholesale implementation.

Problems include technical issues such as how to connect across firewalls, inaccurate error messages that sent us down dead-end paths for days and the fact that there’s no standardized method for these programs to interact with one another. In fact, even Windows Messenger and MSN Messenger communicate only with each other for non-Session Initiation Protocol sessions.

However, the biggest failure comes at what we call “OSI Layer 8” – the human-to-human interaction that Layers 1 through 7 are built to support. Some people also refer to this as politics, and that definition works here as well.

The fundamental problem is there is a lack of general agreement on a “best” messaging and presence management program, and we’ve yet to find an acceptable compromise. There’s always one group with a strong objection to using one of the programs.

We unintentionally started the testing with the MSN and Windows Messenger programs. I asked some international contacts whether they would test Skype with us, but they indicated they would prefer using MSN Messenger and not installing another program. MSN Messenger worked fairly well, but then we immediately started running into contacts who objected to it because of its tight integration with Microsoft Internet Explorer. Yup, people and politics: No reason to talk about the features any further once you run up against a severe case of Gates-hate.

Then we looked at AIM. Same story. AIM tries to install itself as an integral part of the computer and is difficult to uninstall, at least according to our source. Doesn’t even matter whether that’s exactly true. You still end up with people and politics, and there is a sizable community of folks who don’t exactly love AOL. And even though Skype arguably connects best through firewalls, we found that there are a lot of people who have issues with Skype, if for no other reason than that it’s from the same folks who developed Kazaa.

It’s highly unlikely we’ll ever have general agreement on a “best” program. That would be tantamount to having general agreement on a “best” long-distance carrier for phone service.

But phone service is a great analogy. Clearly, what we need is interoperability. Imagine if you could talk on the phone only to people who subscribed to the same long-distance phone company as you. AT&T customers, MCI customers and Sprint customers, along with every other company’s customers, would be closed user groups.

So, regardless of your “Layer 8” opinion of the companies that used to be the Bell system, the entire community benefited from the fact that interoperability standards were established before competition. If only we were this fortunate in the messaging world.