Saturday, July 15, 2006

IM interoperability: it’s not an IM issue

Stove had it at hand, but it did not push his advantage to finish his move: interoperability is not about IM, it is about multimedia communication.

…interoperability is not about IM it's about multimedia communication

Only in this context would a regulator (eventually) be required to step in, and force the interests at stake to “play nice”… As soon as one mentions media communication, the only business model that springs to mind is the POTS model. The toll model, with its greedy gatekeepers, has been around for millenniums. It is well known, does not require any advanced technology or an abnormally high IQ, is only based on power. In theory, it should only appeal to the most primitive societies, but there are hard facts proving the opposite…

In effect, there is no business model for IM. For what it is worth, Wikipedia describes instant messaging as a form of real-time text communication. What money is there to be made in text messaging? Same as what can be made in email. Instant messaging as a form of communication has already become a commodity. And if it had been alone, it would be using a single protocol since many years. The curse of IM lies in the bundling by the crowd of IM with presence, which is tomorrow’s real “dial-tone”. Moreover, this misconception is bi-directional. Whenever someone says “presence”, you immediately hear another person replying “IM”. And vice versa.

What is really at stake in these clouds forming is the control over presence, and by extension, over its use as dial tone to enable more efficient multimedia communications.

First of all, there is VoIP. There has been a business model for VoIP alone, related to decreasing cost. Together, VoIP and presence are much more attractive, as presence would enhance the efficiency of placing a voice call. Remember that in the current POTS, you have to actually ring the other party to find out about its availability. Establishing a voice call between two parties creates a significant load on the underlying infrastructure, even if using a separate signaling network somewhat decreases this load. This is mainly what carriers are charging you for. In a presence enabled multimedia communication system, you do not need to call the other party, as you can deduce its availability to accept your communication request from an aggregation of presence state. This approach drastically decreases the load on your infrastructure, and in theory, makes it more efficient. The carrier’s business in turn benefits from this increased operational efficiency.

Second of all, there is presence enabled marketing. Although this is still a fuzzy business model, there has been growing interest in linking focused advertising with presence to achieve really personalized content distribution. The inclusion of presence in communication devices, from mobile phones to set-top boxes, not forgetting all the connected personal computers, will allow aggregating a wide array of real-time information about one’s behavior. This alone creates huge business opportunities, when coupled with multimedia communication. By chance, the average marketer have not yet grasped the potential... This also induces a number of privacy related concerns, for which there are no satisfactory answers yet. The idea of presence enabled marketing has been in the boardrooms of the most visionary multimedia communication companies for over five years now. AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo! are not what I would call visionaries… but they have done their home work and watched their competitors. Beyond the potential, they have come to realize they could be left on the side of the road if they were to remain at stand still.

As this other post rightly describes, interoperability is not a technology issue, it is not even an IM issue. It is a wider scoped tectonic movement, where the business goes beyond the real-time exchange of text messages. I am certain the major “IM” service providers have already figured out how they will get something in return to interoperate: they will simply charge their customers for filling up their “series of tubes” with voice messages… As I said they are far from being visionaries.

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