Messaging: So Much for the Network of Networks


If you had told me in 1998 that a metered, truncated, lag prone, feature poor version of instant messaging run by telecoms would become a worldwide standard while Internet companies built new proprietary alternatives every other year that didn’t pass messages to each other, there would be a tiny rock island far off the South African coast in the raised shape of my head going through a desk.

ICQ. AIM. MSN. Yahoo Messenger. Skype chat. BBM. iMessage. Now Hangouts.

With Google backsliding on its commitment to XMPP, the humble dream of such networks talking to each other is deader than ever.

I get that particular apps offer extended functionality and quality of service improvements over any available standard, especially for video chat. But timestamped lines of text? Where Internet access is widespread, almost every last one of those should be hopping over XMPP or a standard like it. Almost none are.

If there’s lesson that runs all the way down the networking stack and all the way back to the first thought experiments of Licklider and Paul Baran and them, it’s that to reliably get a message between any two points, you need to let go of centralization. You need open specs.

Today many of us have the Internet in our pockets, and that lesson still applies. Only the upshot is that carrier texting remains the universal way to IM somebody else on their smartphone.

Hell of an own goal, Internet.