Monday, November 13, 2006

Of compartments and silos...

Brad Casemore presented earlier the upcoming integration of Yahoo! messenger into their mail service interface as

In another example of how online applications are becoming richer and more useful, Yahoo announced today that it will embed instant messaging into its web-based email program within the next few months, allowing  users to partake in live chats from Yahoo Mail and to obviate the need for installation of a desktop IM application.

I generally appreciate Brad's comments in the way they keep a positive tone. In this particular case, I am less incline than he is to only find positive aspects in this upcoming integration.  First of all, there is this persistence by one of the remaining consumer instant messaging incumbents to stick to proprietary protocols, rather than embracing open and documented standards. But more generally, as I pointed out earlier, I don't think Yahoo's current "me too" attitude is in any way giving a sign of "online application becoming richer and useful". If industry trend there is, it exemplify this industry inability in general, and of Yahoo! in this particular case, to properly grasp the current usage trends, and to provide relevant solutions to problems at hand.

Mike Gotta has perfectly analyzed the growing disaffection for email observed in "the current set of digital natives (those that have grown up using computers)". With the commoditization of tightly interwoven communication tools, the challenge of technology is not to offer a single command point trying to aggregate a "pot-pourri" of legacy and current communication channels, but rather to enable the proper use of the most appropriate channel and to move seamlessly between channels/devices at any time, while keeping the conversation active and rich.

I believe this is the kind of evolution we notice when we observe how teenagers prefer their IM client to an email client. But I would not qualify this of "generational". In my opinion, it results simply from a different "learning" context and different "social" priorities. The important point is that IM is nothing but another channel for communication, although more in line with the natural real-time nature of face-to-face communication than email in the current impersonation of online "social" spaces.
Looking at the upcoming UI mock-up, which does not provide the slightest hint of presence enabled contact list, makes me wonder if anyone at Yahoo! has even noticed that this evolution has already started. From the look of it and the justifications provided in the original announcement , email and IM are still living in far away silos at Yahoo! But can we really expect a walled garden proponent not to keep the few neurons at its disposal in separate cubicles?

As I hinted before, a true improvement would be to provide a generalized messaging interface, and leave the final routing decision to a combination of presence and user action. On the surface, one could argue that the proposed possibility of copying an email under redaction into an IM provides the same functionality. But this would be missing the true nature of asynchronous communication: it is a special case of synchronous communication, not the other way round. And to notice this subtle difference requires thinking out of the silos.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Labels: ,