This week may well be the pivotal point in the emergence of instant messaging as a tool for the enterprise, as well as for consumers, according to experts.
Instant messaging plans were unveiled this week by Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Luxembourg-based Skype Technologies S.A, joining the IM offerings of Yahoo Inc. and other leading computer industry players.
There are believed to be 1 billion instant messaging users today, worldwide.
And, though nearly 90 percent of corporations have PC users who utilize IM, only 12 percent today have a corporate IM policy and an IM platform selected by IT, rather than by individual users, according to research by Omnipod Inc., a New York-based IM software developer.
“There are a staggering amount of accounts in the enterprise,” Gideon Stein, chief executive officer of Omnipod, told Ziff Davis Internet.
“Young people are coming into the workforce, and this is the way they communicate. These announcements are going to create an opportunity for IM to really make it in the corporate enterprise.”
Thats because, right now, the IM space is somewhat akin to what the Internet itself was about 10 years ago. “Its the Wild West,” said Mike Neumeier, a spokesperson for Atlanta-based Web hosting firm Interland Inc., in an interview with Ziff Davis Internet. “It has a legitimate place inside the enterprise.”
A key feature of the new wave of IM offerings is that voice may be a component.
Google Talk is said to go beyond text-based instant messaging, enabling users to employ a PC keyboard to hold voice conversations with other computer users.
Microsofts MSN Messenger 7.5 offers a number of back-end improvements to boost performance, but now also allows for the exchange of audio clips of up to 15 seconds.
The real killer audio app, though, is said to be coming from Skype.
Skype currently offers free phone calls to anyone with an Internet connection, and is opening up its platform to anyone who wants to integrate Skypes presence and instant messaging services into a Web site or application.
The company said that opening up the platform to the Web makes it possible for any computer user to routinely connect to Skypes fast-growing member base, which has reached more than 51 million people during the last two years.
“People love to talk, and voice is fast becoming the key category for global Internet communications,” said Niklas Zennstrom, the chief executive officer and co-founder of Skype.
IM As the New
If these plans prevail, Microsoft, Google and Skype will be pushing the PC to become a major competitor to the telephone for voice communications.
“IM is becoming the new telephone,” said Jacob Guedalia, chief executive officer of iSkoot Inc., a technology developer in Cambridge, Mass., in an interview with Ziff Davis Internet.
“It is taking people away from the telephone. As it has developed, it has been text. Voice has lagged as an application. Now voice is going to be a big application for IM. This is going to be a really significant market.”
Guedalia said that this will start to change the focus of Web portals—like Google and Yahoo—from aggregating eyeballs to “aggregating earballs, so to speak. These companies may some day be the new phone companies.”
Interlands Neumeier said Skype is clever to wrap its VOIP offering with its IM availability. Guedalia agreed. “Businesspeople are already sitting at their desks at work,” he said. “Why not use Skype for VOIP and IM?”
There are, however, problems with using IM in the enterprise. “IM today comes with a huge Corporate Misery Index—bandwidth drain, employee distractions, vulnerability to viruses and worms … and thats not even touching on SOX [the Sarbanes-Oxley Act],” Neumeier said.
That means that these players will likely roll out enterprise-specific IM applications in the near future, once they have captivated business users with their capabilities.
Whoever comes to market with that technology will have to make all IM applications interoperable, experts tell Ziff Davis Internet.
“There remains one problem, and thats the bells-and-whistles that you get with the specialized IM clients,” Marton Anka, chief technology officer with 3am Labs, a Woburn, Mass.-based remote access and administration provider, told Ziff Davis Internet.
Anka added, “I have IM contacts using every possible variation of services, so Ive switched to Trillian Pro quite some time ago and never looked back. The only problem with interoperation—be that with a unified client such as Trillian or via an open protocol like Jabber—is that you lose all the nifty stuff you get with specialized clients. I can only use my Trillian account to chat, while MSN allows me to send files, or do video conferencing, etc.”
Check out eWEEK.coms for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.