Google moves away from the XMPP open-messaging standard

Google moves away from the XMPP open-messaging standard

Summary: Google is moving away from supporting XMPP, aka Jabber, the open-messaging protocol, because of its lack of broad support and its use by spammers.


When Google announced that it was consolidating its Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) instant messaging and video-conferencing services into Google Hangouts, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) noticed that Google had also sharply diminished "support for the open messaging protocol known as XMPP (or sometimes informally Jabber.)" Google has since admitted that it is indeed shrinking its support for Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP).

XMPP was meant to enable users from one Internet communication network to be able to talk to a friend or co-worker on another such network. So, for example, an AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) user could talk to his co-worker on Google Talk and vice-versa. It sounds great, so what went wrong? 

Google will no longer be fully supporting the XMPP, aka Jabber, IM specification.

A Google spokesperson explained, "The openness of [Google] Talk led to bad user experiences like spam attacks, and limited us in terms of supporting the various forms of communication that we're now able to achieve with Hangouts." While Google didn't mention it, in the past, other companies have been reluctant to fully support XMPP because of security, quality of service, and revenue stream concerns about third-party servers and clients.

Indeed, the spokesperson added, "Over the past several years, we’ve worked to bring the world an open-messaging system, but no company has been willing to join our efforts."

That's not the whole story. Microsoft, while never fully embracing XMPP, has made it possible for Windows Live Messenger to act as an XMPP client. In addition, Microsoft will be offering XMPP client service integration in its Lync 2013 unified communication server. Facebook Chat also supports XMPP client interoperability.

What no other major player did, and what Google is now abandoning, is XMPP server-to-server federation. The Google representative said "XMPP was designed over a decade ago to provide a way for chat networks to interoperate, known as federation. Google Talk was the only major network to support federation, and after seven years, it’s evident that the rest of the industry is not moving to embrace this open system. If, at some point in the future, the industry shows interest, then we would then be open to discussions about developing an interface that's designed for modern needs."

Thus, Google will still be supporting XMPP client-to-server connections. However, XMPP's main selling point, server-to-server federation, made it possible for individual organizations to self-host their own instant messaging (IM) services while still enabling their users to talk to people outside of their group on other XMPP services. Without this federation functionality, XMPP's universal communication functionality is limited.

Practically speaking, what Google's change means is that Google Hangouts users will still be able to have IM chats with users on XMPP services such as Jabber, the Free Software Foundation, and Openfire servers, and vice-versa. In addition, users of third-party IM clients, such as Pidgin, Trillian, and Microsoft's will also continue to be able to IM with Google Hangout users.

What independent XMPP server users and IM client users won't be able to do is use Google Hangout's additional services such as VoIP, video-conferencing, or have multiple participants in an IM session. If you want those, you'll need to use Google's Hangouts apps or the Google Web-based Hangouts client.

Someday there may be a broadly-deployed universal Internet communications open-standard. Another such set of standards, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE), has also been used  to try to bring unity to online communications. Indeed, Cisco and IBM are working in an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) standard that will unify SIP and XMPP. Regardless of the technology, without broad industry adoption it will continue be difficult for users of one unified communication service to talk to users of other such services. With Google's move, that day is a little farther off.

Related Stories:

Topics: Unified Comms, Google, Microsoft, Networking

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Google's shallow support for "open"

    Google supports "open" only as and when it serves the corporate agenda, e.g. as a convenient stick with which to bash Microsoft.

    Google has long portrayed its self as the great champion of open, but it's a fake facade which is easy to see through. E.g. I'm still looking for the download link for the source code of Google Search.

    The "open" philosophy is fundamentally flawed. And Google knows it: "The openness of [Google] Talk led to bad user experiences like spam attacks, and limited us in terms of supporting the various forms of communication that we're now able to achieve with Hangouts." The open movement owes much to Google for its present and unjustified success. This does not mean there is not a place for "open" under certain circumstances.
    Tim Acheson
    • Fundamentally flawed? Poorly executed I think.

      You should know that "open" doesn't mean "bless all packets and hope for the best".
      Interoperability, reference implementation, and potential for connection are aspects of openness when it comes to computing on networks.

      We all know that Google, as a publicly-traded company, has no interest beyond satisfying shareholders, and have transitioned from a service company for consumers to a service company for consumer-consumers. This is not news.

      Oh by the way, nice Microsoft Tag™ in your avatar, I have two years left before I can't read it. (I've never seen a Microsoft Tag actually deployed).
  • Hey clueless

    I hail your double standards. If it were Microsoft, you would be torning your clothes running around naked all over the internet blaming Microsoft, but when it comes to Google, you say just to avoid spammers! I think someone at Google must be paying you heavily to promote their agenda. I already consider you as a troll, but this proves that you don't have moral at all.
    Ram U
  • Google sees the benefits of closed systems

    Perhaps this is one case where Open Source just can't cut it. Google tried and failed to use Open Source and is going closed.

    Just another incident along the long Open Source road showing it isn't a perfect world, as the Open Source shills (like Steven) would have you believe.
    • Barking at the wrong tree

      There is nothing related to Open Source in this case. It is related to a service an commercial company provides and their desire to have tighter control of their users.

      The software is still open source, they just turn some knobs. You could to that too. If you were providing services, that is.
    • The flawed open ideology

      "one case where Open Source just can't cut it"

      Is this the only example you know of? That's surprising.
      Tim Acheson
    • "Open standards" not "open source"

      XMPP isn't about open source, its about open standards. There are both proprietary and open source XMPP servers out there.
  • Article is very wrong.

    >Practically speaking, what Google's change means is that
    >Google Hangouts users will still be able to have IM chats with
    >users on XMPP services such as Jabber, the Free Software
    >Foundation, and Openfire servers, and vice-versa.
    Are you kidding me? Have you read google's statement? Have you tried using hangouts? Do you even know what "no XMPP federation" means? Google explicitly stated that there will be no s2s for hangouts. Not for chats. If you'd tried using hangouts you'd see that this is indeed the case. As soon as you switch to hangouts you are unable to talk to anyone outside of google's servers.
    Where do you find the guys that manage to write an article without taking 5 minutes to check the facts or, at least, read other articles on the subject?
  • Please correct this article

    "Practically speaking, what Google's change means is that Google Hangouts users will still be able to have IM chats with users on XMPP services such as Jabber, the Free Software Foundation, and Openfire servers, and vice-versa."

    This is already and plainly false. Hangouts users cannot already have IM chats with users on other XMPP services. Users connecting with the old Talk client or via client-XMPP can, but Google has already said on their support pages that this (federation) will be disabled in the future.
  • Wanna talk about Spammers

    MSN and Yahoo messengers were, and still are full of spammers. Hmm, is MSN Messenger still around or is it only Skype now?
  • Re: Google Moves Away from the XMPP standard..........

    What a shame! I was looking forward into saving a few dollars by using freedompop and GrooveIP to make and receive calls using my google voice number. Now, after May 15th of 2014 I wont be able to do that!

    Way to go Google! Keep on pissing off your customers :(

    Now, I will have to search for alternatives