Seven years have passed since the Israeli firm ICQ first invented instant messaging, and now, as our cell phones turn into our handheld computers, the software has arrived at a new turning point.
Yosi Vardi, among the founders of ICQ and today a special adviser to America Online, addressed a panel Nov. 9 on the future of instant messaging software, as part of the Tel Aviv Telecom Expo. According to Vardi, real-time communications are especially important, since people are hungry to know what their friends are doing.
"The film my friends are seeing or the music they listen to, this interests me much more than original content I can see on the Internet," explained Vardi. According to the participants on the panel, convergence between the Internet and cellular telephony is creating new opportunities. Yahoo, it appears, is looking for new sources outside the Internet, and is clearly casting its eyes in the direction of cellular telephony. "After years of progress in SMS, there is a dramatic growth in WAP services [Wireless Application Protocol, a subset of HTML-via-cell phone]—a growth that surprises even us," noted Lans Johansen, responsible for Yahoos global cellular service.
According to Johansen, "Instant messaging has today turned into a basic need and has arrived at a critical mass of users globally—in the U.S., there are already more than 53 million adults that use IM. The growth in WAP enables this software to move into the cellular realm. Today we can create profitable business models, but its up to the cellular companies to create appropriate standards for it."
CEO of Japanese VC firm Neoteny and Internet guru Joichi Ito explained that the great advantage in IM software is its "presence" registry—lists that show users which of their friends are available at any given time. "These presence lists do not exist on cell phones, but the minute they are adopted there, they will enable real-time communication at another level. People will be able to see if the person they want to reach is free to speak, and to decide if theyre rather send him a written message. Its unfortunate that the cellular companies are relatively slow to adopt simple standards that could promote the concept."
Ed Fish, senior VP of America Online and in charge of acquiring ICQ for the company, claimed that the adoption of IM by cellular will reap enormous savings, since such messaging costs much less than telephone conversations.
"Given that economy, it will be practical to unify the contacts stored in a cell phones memory with the buddy lists of IM. Thats the reason that the three large IM companies—Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL—have joined together to enable our programs to speak to each other in enterprise deployments. Apparently in the future, they will interoperate also in general consumer use, but this partnership needs a business model that that weve yet to find."
And what of SMS? Will it be replaced? Tzvi Pakula, vice president of Comverse, weighed in: "As mobile phones turn into wireless PCs, so too will SMS turn into Mobile Instant Messenger—MIM—which lets the user see what is happening with his contacts and decide whether to make a voice call, or send them written messages, e-mail or a video clip. All these options will be available to him, and thats a lot more than SMS can offer today."
Translated for eWEEK.com with permission from HaAretz Daily Newspaper Ltd.
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