As you are probably well aware, Google just announced open federation with other IM services via XMPP (jabber). It’s about time that someone did this. Sure, the Trillians of the world are great to have as aggregators of networks but what I really want is ONE identity that is cross network, cross platform, and cross communications (voice, IM, email). I remember in 1998 when David Wetherall was talking about the future he thought we would all have one identity and that it would be our email address. Well, 8 years later it is clear that email will not be the one identity with massive spam issues but potentially with federation of networks it may be our IM/VOIM identity, one day. To date, we have all been on our own IM island where only AOL users could talk to AOL users and MSN to MSN. While early, Google is taking a step in the right direction as it makes no sense for consumers to have to choose which network to join. It should just work. Now Google and others are taking the first step to letting us have one identity and by leveraging open standards and integrating with other services like Michael Robertson’s Gizmo Project and Earthlink. It will be interesting to see if this forces others to open up their networks to play the open standards trump card or simply remain closed and proprietary.
The other interesting part of this announcement is that later this year Google will also support SIP allowing for true interoperability between different VOIP networks that use the open standards SIP protocol. Cisco uses SIP (proprietary version called SKINNY), MSFT uses a form of SIP in Live Communication Server, and open source telephony software like Asterisk and Pingtel (Sipfoundry) either leverage this protocol for VOIP communications or can connect to SIP-based networks (Asterisk). In other words, many in the business world who have VOIP services have knowingly or unknowingly jumped behind the SIP bandwagon. While true interoperability with these services does not completely exist since some hardware vendors have created their own versions of SIP-based technology, this does provide an opportunity for the SIP-based players to potentially end-around Skype by combining networks. While Skype has been doing incredibly well and has a tremendous network advantage, will the fact that Google is getting behind SIP and open standards neutralize the proprietary Skype advantage over time? Does open standards win out over time versus closed proprietary systems? Skype has no reason today to be SIP compliant since it wants to protect its most valuable asset, the network, but will it over time look to offer a SIP gateway? Whatever happens it will be interesting to see if true open standards will triumph over closed and proprietary and how long that will take. At the end of the day consumers don’t care about protocols, they just want it all to work seamlessly and easily, and they do not want to be on their own island for communications. What I want is one identity or phone number that works on any IM network, VOIP network, or even integrates with my PSTN and cell phone identity? Keep an eye out over the next year for innovative services that will move closer to this reality-dual ringing computer and cell phones, seamless transferring of a conversation between networks, and more control over who connects with us and when.