Despite the usual Microsoft hype, the MSN Messenger-Genie agreement isn't the first of its kind: America Online and wireless carrier Sprint already have a similar arrangement in place. A number of other IM providers are also very close to striking deals that will allow their users to send messages to wireless devices.
In a remarkably short time, IM has emerged as a nearly indispensable means of communication for both consumers and businesses. People are leading busier and busier lives, businesses are becoming more and more "virtual," and the line separating our personal lives from our working lives is increasingly blurred.
The result is that people want simple, accessible real-time communications with family, friends and business associates--and for millions of people, IM has become the method of choice. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 clearly showed IM's enormous potential, with tens of thousands of people using it to make contact with loved ones and business associates when conventional methods of communication had failed.
But people using IM have always been frustrated by a single, seemingly intractable problem: The systems are all closed, so that MSN Messenger users, for example, can't "talk" to anyone using AOL Instant Messaging. Deals like the MSN-Genie agreement don't solve that problem, but they achieve something nearly as important: They extend IM's reach beyond corporate networks and the PC-based Internet.
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Wireless devices offer ubiquitous communications because they can go almost anywhere the user goes. Partnerships like the one between MSN and Genie are exploiting the opportunity wireless offers to extend IM's reach. In this market, whoever builds a solution first will have a huge advantage because enormous demand already exists. For this reason, the MSN-Genie deal--even if it isn't as groundbreaking as Microsoft would have us believe--is an important step.
(For a related commentary on instant-messaging security risks, see Gartner.com.)
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