Group Moves to Crack Instant Messaging Barriers

Leading technology companies Tuesday launched a new coalition whose single
mission in life is to resolve instant messaging interoperability standards.

Dubbed IMUnified, founding members
include AT&T Corp., [email protected], iCAST Corp., MSN Internet, Inc., Prodigy Communications Corp., Tribal Voice and Yahoo! Inc.

The coalition’s goal is to break through the barriers of creating a
seamless instant messaging standard for all Internet service providers. The
group intends to eradicate closed, proprietary instant messaging systems
and replace it with a single operating standard to provide private and
secure messaging systems.

Brian Park, Yahoo! senior producer, took the
opportunity to invite other firms to join the technology alliance.

“Internet users want to exchange instant messages with each other,
regardless of which service they use,” Park said. “We welcome the
participation of other interested instant messaging companies who share the
vision of interoperability based on open standards and encourage them to
join our efforts.”

Nearly every member of the group has accessed the instant messaging system
of America Online Inc. over the past
year. The companies played a technical game of dodge ball, gaining access
to America Online’s instant messaging servers, being
blocked from access, circumventing the barriers, only to be permanently
blocked from shared access again.

Each time a flare-up of what’s been called the “Instant Messaging Wars”
occurred, AOL made it clear the leading Internet access provider would not
allow its members privacy to be compromised.

IMUnified intends to make publicly available by the end of August a set of
specifications that will enable functional interoperability among its
members’ instant messaging services. Coalition members plan to implement
the specifications as soon as possible.

IMUnified intends to be among the first to support protocols developed by
the Internet Engineering Task Force in
its efforts to create standards for instant messaging interoperability.

The IETF is scheduled to meet in Pittsburgh, PA for its 48th session July
30 through August 4 and the Instant Messaging and Presence Protocol is in
the agenda.

Ross Bagully, Tribal Voice chief executive officer, said the formation of
the group would create an open standard for instant messaging and would be
a big win for the users of all instant messaging services.

“We are committed to supporting the creation of an open-standards solution
based on the work going on at the IETF,” Bagully said. “This announcement
brings us one step closer to making open communication between all instant
messaging services a reality.”

Initially, IMUnified intends to build upon technologies already used by
many coalition members to enable their Internet users to communicate freely
with each other. Subsequently, IMUnified would focus its efforts on the
implementation of deeper interoperability standards to rapidly incorporate
the emerging specifications of the IETF standards, when set.

Yusuf Mehdi, MSN vice president, said the groups members would work
together to enhance the privacy and security of an integrated instant
messaging network.

“One of the things that makes this coalition so exciting is the opportunity
to work together and learn from each other so that we can create a system
that is even more pr

ivate and more secure than what is available today,”
Mehdi said.

Instant messaging system integration and interoperability is a political
hotbed because developing a single standard is the key to developing global
unified messaging systems.

Marc Linden, group vice president of carrier
applications, said developments in wireless services requires that tech
companies cooperate to develop and open standard for instant messaging.

“Web-enabled wireless phones will put ‘always-on’ instant messaging in the
pockets of hundreds of millions of new users around the world,” Linden
said. “We want to give each and every one of these new users the broadest
amount of choice and flexibility when they seek to reach out and
communicate with others.”

Denver-based Inc., a
subsidiary of Webb Interactive Services
, is absent from the list of top tech firms
that founded the alliance. is the only open source service
provider that bases its systems on an XML-based instant messaging platform.

Last week Jabber participated in the Open Source Software Conference, where
it announced that more than 5,000 Internet and applications service
providers had adopted its
open source server platform for instant messaging.

Just 10 weeks after the it first became available from the open source
project, early adopters include major
corporations, other open source projects, a wide variety of service
providers, and notable dot-com companies.

Andre Durand, general manager, said the company believes that
the instant messaging industry offers the same growth trajectory as e-mail
witnessed in the mid-90s.

“A pattern that drove the growth to some approximately 1.3 million e-mail
servers is being witnessed as enterprises demand flexibility and control
over their instant messaging services,” Durand said. “This creates a
tremendous opportunity for to become the clear leader in
enterprise instant messaging solutions.”

Jabber’s extensive instant messaging approach leverages the application as
an ideal gateway to future uses that incorporate device, mobile and
Internet Protocol telephony.

Jeremie Miller, Jabber open source project founder, said open source
solutions could mend instant messaging woes.

“Since Jabber is a fellow project within the open source community, we
believe it is important to meet with the leaders of other open source
projects from around the world to pursue exciting new opportunities for
Jabber integration,” Miller said.

The Jabber project has been recently strengthened through a surge of new
developer support. The developer network encompasses hundreds of software
developers worldwide, making daily contributors to advances in more than a
dozen sub-projects.

Some of the sub-projects include compatibility with the Linux open source programming.

AOL, the IMUnified group, and open source proponents are sure to clash at
the IETF’s forthcoming meeting. Though no open standard for instant
messaging has been determined, two of the three groups will most likely
walk away for the standard-setting agenda dissatisfied with the outcome of
the IETF’s efforts to establish an interoperable, secure and private
standard for instant messaging.

Rob Enderle, Giga Information Group
analyst, said it really is in the best interest
of all parties to come up with a set of standards because the market is significantly
under developed.

“The thing is, if you are a company or a government agency and you were to

p a standard, the group creates a fairly strong argument that the
standard should not be AOL,” Enderle said. “A government body or a large
corporation does not want to get cubby holed. The message is that AOL is
going to create a cubbyhole to build a technology that locks you into a
technology you may not be able to get out of.”

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