IM to breed new class of applications?

The ability of Instant Messenger to provide real-time communication and other information could be just a start.

BOSTON -- The underlying technology of instant messaging may soon be the basis for a host of other applications that go far beyond simple chatting, developers and analysts said Tuesday.

Instead, developers said that the presence, status and location information provided by the IM application can be the underpinnings for future applications.

Instant messaging can provide the framework for programs that, for instance, forward phone messages to various devices, depending on where a person is and what they are doing, said Jeff Pulver, head of, which is sponsoring the Instant Messaging 2000 show.

It could also allow you to read an online document and instantly message the author, or provide location awareness for applications written for car travelers.

Some companies are working on applications that help track Alzheimer's patients, he said. Other applications could use IM-equipped cell phones to help parents track down their kids.

"If you can identify presence, and deal with the privacy aspects, you can develop some very cool applications," he said. "For example, say I'm driving in my car, and my car system can (access restaurant preferences). It could suggest Italian restaurants to me and provide me with directions."

"The other side of presence is not just telling people you're there, but informing some sort of central control system about your status. Providing intelligence as to what's happening (to you) to your server so it can use that to organize information," said Jeremie Miller, founder of, an open-source IM group.

But while those tools may be cool, what the industry needs is to get corporate America interested, he said. And IM can work their as well.

A major example would be the ability to help telcos improve call completion -- they only get paid when someone reaches their calling party. Having the ability to know whether someone is ready to answer a call, information an IM application could deliver, could drastically improve completion rates, he said.

But improved applications are needed to get the corporate world interested. Interoperability -- the ability to share data and information between applications -- is key, and something almost every company here stressed.

Of course, the company that almost everyone here wants to interoperate with -- America Online Inc., which dominates the messaging market -- has decided not to attend this show. But the mood of developer's here seemed to be, 'no problem, we'll do this without 'em.

Brian Park, senior producer at Yahoo! Inc. (yhoo), said his company has seriously considered opening up its protocols over the next six months or so if there is not major movement towards some sort of standard.

However, opening the company's protocols, is "definitely not an ideal situation," Park said, due to concerns about security. What he's hoping for is some sort of work from the major players in the industry towards interoperability at least with each other.

"We're starting to realize that the (work toward creating an official Internet Engineering Task Force) standard is moving along more slowly than we thought," he said.

Something that may push the industry ahead, and may grab the interest of the corporate world, is Microsoft Corp.'s (msft) plans to integrate IM into the new version of its Exchange server.

The company plans to release a software developer's kit for instant messaging when it launches Exchange 2000 this summer, said Francis deSouza, product unit manager at Microsoft.

The SDK will include Active X controls for contact views and message views, Host APIs and tools for administration.

It will also ship to IM clients with Exchange, the already released MSN Messenger product, and a client based on the SDK.

Later this summer, the company will ship an add-on for its Outlook 2000 e-mail client that integrates presence information. And deSouza said presence information could go even further.

"In the future, there's no reason why applications like Word," wouldn't have this feature, he said.

That would allow a user to, for example, look up the author of a document and find out instantly whether he or she is online, or find out who else is working on the document.

Releasing the SDK for IM will also allow third parties to develop their own applications that use presence information. For example, a workflow application could use presence information to find out who on a list of authorized people is available to approve a document, and route it accordingly.


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