Avner Ronen

Vice President, Strategic Development, Odigo

Avner Ronen never intended to be the David to the Goliath called America Online. But the way the native Israeli sees it, his instant messaging company, Odigo, cant stop fighting to interoperate with AOLs client, AOL Instant Messenger.

Odigo has 3.2 million registered users, merely a fraction of the 65 million registered users of AIM. AOL is viewed as the market leader, so rivals say its reluctance to connect with other messengers is stalling the potential of instant messaging (IM).

Ronen has spent the past year explaining the importance of interoperability to the press and at industry conferences. "It wasnt some kind of board decision to go and lead this outcry," he says. "But it happened from the point where we released Odigos first version that was interoperable . . . I think companies are now looking up to us to see what we have to say about issues concerning IM."

Odigo first became interoperable with AOLs other client, ICQ, in January 2000. By May it had connected with AIM and has played a cat-and-mouse game ever since, getting connected and then blocked 25 times to date.

Odigo is among the seven founding members of a group called IM Unified, which includes Yahoo! and Microsoft. The companies have created a temporary protocol to interoperate among themselves, and plan to offer the protocol to other vendors.

The members will use the protocol soon, but the quirkiness of the interoperability — users will still have to sign up with multiple vendors — shows Ronen cant become too complacent. Hes speaking with wireless carriers and device manufacturers about integrating IM clients other than AIM into their Internet-enabled devices.

"We still see the potential for the market to drive this change," he says.

After not getting much help from regulators, the future of instant messaging lies in large part with Ronens fight.