Friday, December 21, 2007

if we build it, will they come

Consider the instant messaging landscape in 1999. ICQ had blazed a narrow trail through a small community, and AOL Instant Messenger was the dominant player (carrying over 430 million messages a day). Yahoo was making good headway, and even Microsoft was throwing their hat into the fray with MSN Messenger.[*] All four major systems used proprietary, non-interoperable, unpublished protocols. AOL was engaged in a war with what they considered "rogue" clients, vigorously blocking any attempts at interoperability.

The entrenched players had little interest in a standard protocol. Only Microsoft -- the upstart -- was promoting the concept of a standard protocol.

In the intervening 8 years, XMPP and SIMPLE have gained significant market and mind share, and it's not hard to imagine eventual interoperability between every viable instant messaging system within the next decade or so.

It's the same curve followed by just about all popular communication technologies: proprietary versions emerge first, and prove that the market exists. Eventually, a standardized protocol for the technology is defined, and the market slowly migrates to the standard. (To see how this plays out in a longer timeframe, consider the slow but complete migration of email from isolated, proprietary islands to fully-interconnected standards-based servers over the past 25 years).

That's what XCON is doing for conferencing. I understand that it's hard seeing the curve from this end, and it's difficult to imagine what impact we might have over the next 5, 10, 20 years. But it all needs to start somewhere, and we think this is as good a start as we can come up with right now.


[*] Yes, there were important predecessors in spirit, like zephyr, talk, and their ilk. I'm trying to stick with the UI modality represented by currently popular instant messaging systems.

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