With the release of GTalk this week, the blogosphere has been talking about what it all means. In fact, there's been way more talk than "yet another messaging system," in world with 3 or 4 too many already, deserves. Clearly, Google is positioning itself as an Internet operating system capable of displacing Microsoft as the integration point (to use a Clayton Christensen term).
To do that, Google needs an identity strategy. My guess is they've got one, although they haven't come right out and said that. GMail created unique user IDs on the Google network, which GTalk leverages. I've started calling them GIDs. The GTalk announcement extends that and strengthens it. As David Card wrote:
What's critical about IM isn't real-time text messaging but the Buddy List as a communications/presence management hub.(Link is ancient history for geek/vision cred.) You manage your buddies and buddy groups and their relationships to you (and each other), shifting those according to what persona you're inhabiting (work, home, fun, shopping, etc.) and what communications are available to you or you want to make available to them. Then broadcast that selectively. The company that can teach consumers how to do this, and own that management tool is in a very powerful position.
What's more, the GTalk messaging system is based on XMPP, the XML-based protocol that powers Jabber. I think that's significant for a couple of reasons:
- Jabber open with lots of clients that already work on GTalk. I started using it with iChat (on OS X), using my existing GMail account, and with no download or configuration on the Google side. It just worked. The significance is not only more ready adoption. More importantly, this plays right into the "Google as an integration point for various commodity components" meme. The integration point is where the money is made--just ask Microsoft.
- XMPP is bigger than just instant messaging. First, as we've noted it's a presence network. Starting to build presence into other apps on Google is now possible. No reason, for example, that every Google group couldn't have it's own presence cues for every member with a GID. But even beyond presence, XMPP could carry lots of information besides just chatter between friends. Event notification or reputation information are a few examples.
Its nice to think of Google as a bunch of smart people just having a good time and seeing what fun toys they can build, but that misses the fact that they're also a multi-billion dollar company that has to fulfill a lot of investor expectation or die. Doing so requires a strategy and Google's strategy is based on becoming the Internet OS and integrating commodity components (i.e. Linux, OS X, and Windows). Google can't build an integration point without an identity strategy and their identity strategy has to include synchronous messaging and presence--things they get in spades and on the cheap from a IM system built on XMPP. This is a smart move on Google's part.