Industry executives said this week that while AOL's standoffishness is hurting consumers, the industry is still forging ahead. In particular, developers of corporate software are discovering the potential of IM as more than just something teenagers chat with.
"Instant messaging as a business application can help resolve deadline-oriented problems, reduce phone tag, increase multitasking and break down barriers in communication," said Deanna Sanford, lead product manager for MSN Marketing at Microsoft.
Lotus Development released its Sametime instant messaging product last year and has since linked its Notes R5 to the client. Microsoft and Novell both plan to integrate messaging into new versions of their mail clients, using technology licenced from AOL.
Yahoo! is considering plans to develop special versions of its messaging client for corporations. For example, a company can specify that they only want users to communicate within the network and not bypass a firewall, said Brian Park, senior producer for Yahoo! Messenger.
Yahoo! has also been working on integrating voice technology into its client, and it released a beta version of its clients for mobile devices.
"It's really, really valuable to people like the mobile professionals," Park said. "IM is really well suited to wireless messaging. You'll eventually see some sort of instant messaging combination with SMS (System Management Server) that will allow any phone or PDA to talk to any device in the world."
Retailers also see the appeal of instant messaging. Several companies have released tools that let users chat with customer service reps through a text window on their Web sites. And FaceTime Communications has licenced AOL's client to develop a customer service application that allows consumers to chat with sales reps using their buddy lists. The idea there is that the consumer doesn't have to stay on the page to talk to a rep; they can just send a message whenever they have a question -- to check on the delivery status of an order, for example. It's also used to allow vendors and suppliers to keep in touch with their customers, transferring data and other information.
Jabber's Miller said that aspect of IM is appealing to developers -- using the technology to go beyond chatting. While instant messaging lets you talk to another person, it also gives you the ability to find out information about them -- where they are, what their status is -- that can be developed in other ways.
"It's not just that fact that you're sending a message instantly; you can basically do that today with email," he said. "It's the presence information. You can see where a person is or if they're away or working. And you can add people to your buddy list" to track them.
Jabber.org released Version 1.0 of its server client earlier this month. The goal is to develop a completely open instant messaging technology that will use XML to act as bridge between different IM clients.
Interoperability in instant messaging is "inevitable," Miller said.
"It's open communication. It's like having an open phone network so anybody can call anybody else. It doesn't make sense to have seven different phones for each of the different operating companies," he said. "In my opinion it's inevitable that we're going to get there, that it's going to be open. It's the force of the market, really; the force of the consumers. It's just the best option for everybody in general."
America Online is a bully. Microsoft showed us bullies don't reform unless they're forced to. Jesse Berst doesn't want to wait 20 years for the government to figure out what we already know: That AOL is bad for Internet consumers. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.
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