July 13, 2006

Yahoo, Microsoft Begin IM Testing..

A limited public beta test of interoperability between the instant messaging systems run by two major Internet players begins today; 350 million users of Yahoo Messenger with Voice and Windows Live Messenger will be able to communicate across the two systems.

Another walled garden is in the process of being dismantled. Instant messenger (IM) users have been restricted in communicating with users on separate systems. The frustration over this has led to a demand for better interoperability.

Software solutions like Trillian, and web services like Meebo, have been available to address the problem. Those approaches allow a user to combine IM profiles from several services into one place, and chat with all of their contacts.

Give two things credit for the breaking down of the wall between Microsoft and Yahoo, which announced their plans for interoperability last year: consumer demand and online advertising. People wanted control of their messaging experience. They can email anyone on any system, or call from a cellphone to any other cellphone, without a problem.

Why should IM be any different?

The desire for control led to demand for Trillian and similar clients. It also provided the motivation for clever people like those at Meebo to attack the problem from a use-anywhere web perspective.

Those two solutions provide the interoperability that appeared unlikely before the Yahoo-Microsoft disclosure last year, and the opening of the beta test today. But make no mistake about it, alternative solutions for users do not carry advertising, and keeping users on a feature-rich interoperable client with ad displays had to be a motivating factor.

From a joint statement issued by the two companies (spacing added):
Consumers worldwide from Microsoft and Yahoo! will be able to take advantage of IM interoperability and join the limited public beta program.

They will be among the first to exchange instant messages across the free services as well as see their friends' online presence, view personal status messages, share select emoticons, view offline messages and add new contacts from either service at no cost.

Yahoo! and Microsoft plan to make the interoperability between their respective IM services broadly available to consumers in the coming months.

Now that the two have torn down the wall, it is time to consider, AIM, AOL's IM service. AIM has largely resisted any interoperability and has at times been a barrier to third-party clients accessing its services.

Again, it comes back to advertising and revenue opportunities. Yahoo and Microsoft have not divulged if any revenue sharing will take place. Considering that a typical user will keep an IM client active for hours online, the issue of advertising is not a minor one.

AOL has shifted much of its content online in the past 12 months. The company may make the rest of its closed services, like AOL email, available for free to broadband users, pending the approval of the Time Warner board.

Maybe that will be the harbinger of an interoperable AIM service. If everyone can work out the money issues, that is.