Until recently, the world’s second-largest Internet service provider hadn’t
given much thought to the instant messaging (IM) craze in the United States.
To make up for lost time, Europe’s T-Online purchased a license for more
than $1 million from MessageVine,
an IM outfit headquartered in New York. With the license, the company is
now rolling out its own branded T-Online Messenger (TOM) to its 7.9 million
subscribers to compete with other IM giants America Online Instant Messenger
(AIM) and the Microsoft Network’s Passport IM platform.
MessageVine won the contract because it knew enough about the market
environment in Europe to beat out American competitors and more than enough
about the IM business to beat out European firms.
Europe has been slow to adopt IM since its debut in the mid 1990s. AOL
jumped to an early lead with AIM, and many other ISPs moved belatedly to
take back the market. In fact, MSN just recently overstepped AIM as the
most-used IM product.
But in Europe, most people use the Internet via their wireless phones,
because of local call toll fees and lack of effective deregulation that made
PC Internet access cost-prohibitive in many cases. That made it hard to
find an IM solution, since many software vendors were designing the product
on a wireline platform.
Eli Efrat, MessageVine chief executive officer, said that a
platform-agnostic approach is the best when looking for an IM platform.
“We believe that enabling presence-based messaging between all
Internet-capable devices, including mobiles and personal digital assistants
(PDAs), increases the value of the services that T-Online offers to its
subscribers,” Efrat said. “Our goal is to give wireless operators and ISPs
the most technologically advanced IM solutions, in turn enabling them to
offer their subscribers the best communications services possible.”
The deal gives T-Online an instant presence in the IM field, without the
need for research and development that the other IM makers had to go through
to launch a product.
“Historically, everybody that needed just went ahead and developed it,” said
Amit Rahav, MessageVine vice president of international business
development. “Now, people like Deutche Telecom can license this from a
commercial product and get time to market much quicker.”
MessageVine is a member of IMUnified, a coalition of providers looking to
make interoperability between the many different IM platforms work. As it
stands now, homebrewed IM systems are not compatible with each other, making
worldwide acceptance of IM as a true real-time communications product
A standard protocol for instant messaging could conceivably revolutionize
the way people communicate. Take e-mail, for example, which has had the benefit
of a standard protocol for most of its product life.
Without a standard, AOL users wouldn’t be able to e-mail MSN or Yahoo! users,
and vice versa. That’s what happening right now with instant messaging and
IMUnified’s attempts to formalize an agreement between the many IM vendors.
“IMUnified is not an ideal solution to the instant messaging problem, but it
is the pragmatic solution for now since its a client to server solution as
opposed to a server-to-server solution,” Rahav said.