Sunday, July 16, 2006

From inmates to IM mates…

To put a closing section to the latest on IM misconception, I believe this piece to be particularly misleading for casual readers. After the information mashup here comes the statistics mashup. The recipe is simple. Just throw everything IM related in the cauldron, hum some incantation, and the definite truth immediately surface: “Google Talk fails to find an audience!” To be frank, I have no idea how many are using their IM service, as Google is rather secretive. I am not a Google aficionado, but something in the way the post come to this conclusion makes me feel uneasy. In the statistics:

  • Legacy consumers IM providers users are cited as services
  • Google Talk is cited as an application, and so is Trillian

In such conditions, I would have thought a more appropriate interpretation of the data to be “only 3.4 millions elected to use Google Talk client for IM”. Obviously less catchy than “fails to find an audience”…

Whatever method was used to come up with these figures in the first place, the derived conclusion is a bias on reality. The customers of all the legacy IM services, with their bright colored uniformed IM clients, are easily accounted for. In comparison, people communicating with the Google Talk service are more difficult to quantify. Nonetheless, the number of registered users for the Google talk service cannot be greater than the GMail service’s registered users. But the fact that Google’s IM services is younger than the incumbents service is not factored in. Etc… In the end, an eye catching title will certainly be simpler to create than a critical analysis of these figures.

Most importantly, this blunt statement fails to capture the fundamental difference between a captive and an open IM service. Either you listen to, communicate with, be a resource for, build trust with your users, and once you have established trust, you can build a long and healthy relationship. Or you keep your users behind bars, hopping they will not look outside, until they decide to escape. Google seems to favor the former approach. In this context, following my previous post, AOL’s biggest challenge to respond to the latest tactical move from its competitors involves deciding a drastic departure from its traditional IM model. This tougher than marying a next of kin, as interoperability would imply AIM and Google Talk becoming IM mates, creating a real opening. I doubt Google would welcome a closed partnership with any player, including AOL.

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