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Melanie Turek
Melanie Turek
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MSN-Yahoo Interoperability Another Good Sign for IM

The agreement between Microsoft and Yahoo to connect their respective IM communities (now in beta testing) takes IM interoperability a welcome step further. I have long stressed that as a communications tool, IM is best served (and best serves its users) by being open—that is, able to connect users regardless of client or service. This is only more true as IM, and the presence that powers it, becomes more pervasive as a chat tool, as well as a link to other forms of communication, such as telephone calls and Web conferencing.

Although this particular news probably has the greatest impact on consumers (as many as 350 million of them according to the companies involved, although there is probably significant overlap between the two services), it will have trickle-down impacts on the enterprise. That’s because as more people depend on the interoperability in their personal lives, they’ll come to expect it at work, too. What’s more, interoperability will spur an increase in use overall, because it makes the technology more valuable, and therefore more attractive.

Of course, Microsoft, AOL and others have been supporting interoperability for more than a year now, via so-called federation agreements that companies can opt into when they implement the respective products (Live Communications Server, etc.). Thos agreements allow IT managers to federate their IM system with those from AOL or other companies using the same client (say, LCS). So-called IM gateway vendors (Akonix, FaceTime, Symantec’s IMlogic product) also enable interoperability among all the consumer services and select enterprise-class systems. And hosted enterprise IM services, such as those from Reuters and Omnipod, allow users to connect to other users of the services outside their own enterprise.

The difference here is that no effort or additional fee is required on the part of the user—if you’re on Yahoo Messenger, you’ll automatically be able to chat with buddies on MSN, and vice-versa. And that’s just as it should be--today among the free consumer services, and tomorrow among enterprise-class solutions. Since the standards to make that happen out of the box are still immature and not widely adopted, the effort will need to be multi-pronged, based on both programming and business relationships. But consumers and business users alike want automatic interoperability—and the IM services and vendors are wise to give it to them, even if it means changing their business models.

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