Thursday, November 30, 2006

The six oldest new ideas in chat…

Since I came across this post, I was looking for the proper illustration before coming back to it. In the end, the simplest and first impression is always the right one: this author does not have the slightest clue of what he is talking about…

First of all, he starts by being confused by the subtle difference between "chat" and "instant messaging". In effect, most of the "exemplifying" services or product he mentions are doing with instant messaging, and some of them offers multi user chat facilities. But instant messaging is not really news.

Interoperability. Ever since the invention of the telephone, interoperability has been the single requirement for any mediated communication system. In short we cannot decently consider this to be a new idea. Because of the early calcification forming into the innovative region of most corporate executives' brain, we unfortunately face a walled garden landscape for instant messaging (amongst other things). So suddenly discovering that "clearly, open standards are here to stay" is not properly visionary. Well as they say in China, "when the wise man point to the moon, the fool only sees the finger".
As a passing remark, unless I am mistaking, Trillian, Gaim, Adium and Miranda are multi protocol instant messaging client applications, not "services".

In-Browser Chat. This one is misleading because of the confusion between chat and instant messaging. But a simple search on the term chat will bring back 551,000,000 results which tends to indicate that chat has been in the news for quite some time. And when you carefully look at the results, you will find that many point to in-browser chat for so called "adults" services. But isn't this the oldest business in the world?
There are a number of browser based instant messaging clients which are trying to solve the interoperability issues mentioned above. For the same reasons that lead to the ineluctable disappearance of communication silos, only those services that rely on open protocols will remain. At that point in time, the end user will have the choice of installing a standard based client application on its workstation or use the same application hosted at a provider. The debate between hosted and non-hosted application has been part of the IT landscape ever since its beginning. This is not new either.

Location Based Chat. Geo location services have existed in mobile phone services since the early days of GSM. Before the web 1.0 bubble, some vendors were even touting geo location as "killer application". And it is still part of several mobile application services trying to bring contextual search to road warriors.
As I explained earlier, geo location can participate in bringing a sensation of "place" into mediated communication. But initial research on the subject dates back to the mid nineties. It is fair to say that most of the research was concerned about "virtual reality" worlds at the time. Obviously, instant messaging was not yet considered mainstream. This simply re-enforce the length of the road leading from ideas to their applications in different domains, but this has always been the case.

Flexible Identities. A quick look at this post will convince you that multiple personae have one of the longest research histories in the context of the Internet. You will also notice that there is a subtle distinction between "multiple personae" and "multiple facets" of one's identity. The same as between Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hide…
As a remark, the provided examples only implement precepts from the now defunct Presence and Availability Management forum on how granular presence was to be used to manage communication address handles, and when thinking of it, all the call forwarding features available in a PBX were already a way to "separate your private and professional faces". After ten years of "converged communication" talks, applying the same principles to instant messaging should not come as a real surprise.

Contextual Chat. In this case we are really talking about chat. This section presents a blurred mix of two different concepts. On one end there is the chat room client who can be embedded on different web pages, such as blog posts, and provide a fixed context for discussion. On the other end we have the "virtual presence" clients as browser's add-in which will work on any web page. The idea of being instantly aware of other users reading the same web page emerged early in the history of the Web. Implementation projects appeared in the fist half of the nineties with the advent of Virtual Places and other co-browsing initiatives. Ten to fifteen years on the Internet time scale are more like a century to me.

Rich Media Chat. As the author puts it "web cams and microphones have been on the web for a while", and it is only the commoditization of broadband network access and computing power that made "rich media", read internet audio and video, accessible to the mass. Already in the early days of video-conferencing, when only ISDN and leased lines were available, several systems were offering in-band instant messaging and even document sharing. Once again the idea dates back fifteen years. As for the previous section, speaking of novelty is not appropriate. That said, the trend to combine audio to instant messaging is natural as it mimic a real world behavior. The challenge will be to provide a seamless experience moving from one medium to the other across different devices.

The Internet has an immense magnifying power. It even allows us to quickly search a vast knowledge repository for information that would be relevant to make a post valuable. But using a flashy title is still far easier than providing relevant content: you only need to utter six words instead of a few hundred. Unfortunately the lazy approach based on making noise has been around since the beginning of time.

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