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Bantu Rethinks ICQ, Yahoo Interoperability

Enterprise IM developer Bantu Inc. said it has severed links with the AOL Time Warner Inc. -owned ICQ public network, because of problems with spam and other irritating instant messages (IMs) circulating on that system. The situation is different with Bantu's link with Yahoo Inc.'s Yahoo Messenger public IM network -- that electronic connection has been temporarily cut with Bantu as Yahoo makes internal technology changes.

Scott Heydorn, spokesperson for Washington, D.C.-based Bantu, confirmed the cut-offs to InstantMessagingPlanet this morning.

Bantu made a "conscious decision" to cut its link to ICQ, because of quality concerns. "As IM systems go, they're the most likely one to have spam and other things that are unacceptable for us," including links to pornographic content, Heydorn said.

The move to sever the ICQ link is not necessarily permanent -- re-establishing it depends on if Bantu can control or filter unauthorized or unacceptable content, or if it just wants to hook up with it again. "We're in the process of making that decision," he said. "From a corporate perspective, we don't have anyone really who is clamoring for ICQ." End-users and those outside the U.S. may want Bantu to link with ICQ, but Heydorn says his company's focus is on the requirements of the corporate world.

Meantime, Bantu two weeks ago temporarily severed its link with Yahoo Messenger, as the portal giant made changes to its IM network that required Bantu to make changes in kind. Those changes should be made in the "not-too-distant future," Heidorn said. "It's just a matter of determining what we need to do at the protocol level to keep interoperability. It's still interoperable, it's just unreliable. So we made the decision to eliminate the connection until we get it figured out on our side."

Bantu still maintains interoperability with AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Messenger, Heydorn said.

The interoperability issue affects 1.2 million people who mainly use Bantu's hosted platform. Only a small percentage of those users have indicated a need for interoperability, Heydorn said. Of that little group, most use Yahoo Messenger, with MSN Messenger coming in second and AIM in third.

Bantu's move brings up a larger question that plagues the enterprise IM market as a whole: Is a corporate IM network that interoperates with public IM nets desirable for companies? Besides the threat of spam and other undesirable messages coming into a firm's network, the public nets remain insecure -- recent news coverage of AIM breaches and MSN problems (albeit on the client side for MSN) reinforce those beliefs.

From Bantu's perspective, the demand for interoperability depends on the needs of customers, Heydorn said. Companies in security-conscience industries like petrochemicals don't want any involvement with insecure public networks, while others that need IM contact with the outside world for front-office or eCRM functions require it.

"We're not focused on giving away a free client so that users can talk across non-standard networks," he said. "If there's a business case in the corporate-use scenario of being able to talk to these people on other networks, then great. But it is not our primary focus or primary value proposition."

Bantu wants to move in parallel with the rest of the enterprise IM industry, Heydorn said. But it'll do it as standards like Session-Initiation Protocol (SIP) and SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE) come into wider use. "We're committed to finding out where the standards are going and then providing the service," he said.

In recent months, Bantu has announced education-related deals with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, George Washington University and Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH). Helping with Bantu's education efforts is Blackboard Inc., which has developed product extensions that allow the Bantu IM & Presence Platform to interoperate with the Blackboard 5.5 product. The addition of Bantu's IM enhancement offers real-time communication and collaboration for Blackboard's 2,200 customers.

Also, Bantu was recently added to Lockheed Martin's Global Combat Support System - Air Force (GCSS-AF) Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (ID/IQ) federal government contract. As part of this program, Lockheed Martin provides the procurement vehicle for the U.S. Air Force to purchase the Bantu Instant Messaging (IM) & Presence Platform and associated services.

And Bantu and Annapolis, Md.-based TeleCommunication Systems , which provides wireless location and messaging software, have developed an enhanced IM service for wireless carriers. Both companies will offer the integrated mobile chat and IM application that lets subscribers participate in chat sessions with multiple subscribers or one-to-one IM sessions from their mobile phones, two-way pagers, and desktop computers.

Bob Woods is the managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.