The Approaching Mobile Messaging Mess
By Mike Masnick, Fri Oct 01 19:00:00 GMT 2004

Despite some early problems, mobile messaging standards have mostly solved interoperability problems just in time to discover that mobile devices are being invaded by a variety of instant messaging offerings -- that don't interoperate.

Interoperability has been an issue in the messaging space for a while. By this point, it would seem like people should have learned about the power of network effects, but companies still have trouble giving up control. While the carriers have mostly worked out interoperability issues associated with SMS and MMS, it was a problem for a while. Now a new messaging interop question is rising.

The world of desktop instant messaging is starting to converge with mobile messaging. This has been a threat for some time, but as mobile devices have become more powerful, and more computer-like, it was only a matter of time until the functions started to overlap. Already, devices like the Danger Sidekick and AT&T's new ogo heavily promote their ability to work on various instant messaging networks. However, they also support SMS, leading to what's bound to be consumer confusion over what messaging system to use at what point for which type of message.

On top of all of this, the big three desktop IM players (Yahoo!, MSN and AOL) all want to more actively offer mobile versions of their software, while the carriers are trying to make sure that any instant messaging offering fits safely within their walled gardens. The end result, is that the carriers apparently are embracing yet another system, called the Mobile Instant Messaging and Presence Services (IMPS), originally created by Motorola, Ericsson, and Nokia and now a part of the Open Mobile Alliance. The carriers like it because not only will they control it, but they'll be able to brand it as well. Still, the article at InfoSync wonders why this is needed at all, considering the Jabber IM standard has been around for a while, without the patent problems that face IMPS. Also, it represents a solution that many people already use and which has numerous client products (both mobile and desktop).

If the industry really wants to solve this issue, it's time to get all of the stakeholders (including some users) together, to try to come up with a solution that works across the board, with the least amount of trouble for end users. While it may be difficult for carriers to give up control over the interface, the result of the network effects of a single standard should more than compensate for the difference. The big three desktop players need to get over their refusals to talk to one another, and realize that customer annoyance at having to maintain multiple IM accounts is doing more damage in the long run. Unless they can be brought on board as well, most end-users aren't going to be convinced that they need to sign up for yet another IM service, no matter who supports it.