Wednesday, August 4, 2010

O GTalk team, where were thou?

Instant messaging (IM) penetrates our lives deeper and deeper, whether we like it or not. Most people start using whatever their peers so to be able to network with them. For that reason, switching default IM is tremendously hard thing to do, especially if one already accumulated number of contacts in previous network. This is called "Network Effect".

There are several factors that can make one consider the switch - presence of their peers on the alternative network, number of functions the IM client and the network offer, easy to use IM client, availability of the client on their platform and (unfortunately often neglected) - how proprietary the network protocol is.

For past several years GTalk team was consistently failing on almost every point (at least on Linux). There is no native GTalk client for Linux. Interoperability with open-source clients is poor, especially on advanced features (voice and video conferences). No Video in standalone GTalk client. No built-in group chat support. No way to transfer bunch of contacts. File transfer is not reliable. The XMPP servers occasionally refuse to allow login (on ports 5222 and 5223). No way to organize contacts per groups (in the official GTalk client). These are problems that I have struggled with. I am sure there are many others.

Some of the problems are caused by protocol restrictions. But Google already showed that it can extend protocols by adding Jingle to XMPP. Some are caused by open-source clients. Google also showed that it can fund that as part of summer of code projects. Apparently that was not enough. Google missed great opportunity to have an viable IM network by underfunding the GTalk team and most popular open source clients. For Google's finances that would be pocket charge expenses.

With the Network Effect the Skype network has accumulated, it will be impossible to revert the situation, unless something dramatically occurs. That makes me sad as XMPP+Jingle had great potential to become the IM of choice for the world.

I speculate that Google Voice will fail for this very reason, but once Google understand that, it will probably be too late.

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