Instant messaging (IM) is a type of computer software that allows users that are on a network to send each other near instantaneous text messages. Instant messaging is essentially the CB radio of the Internet generation. Its use has skyrocketed as of recent and has quickly become one of the "killer apps" in the land of Internet. While intially used by the younger computer savvy demographic, instant messaging has quickly found its way onto the desktops of many corporate users' computers. The first application on the scene was a program called ICQ, this was just the beginning.
- What is instant messaging?
In the beginning of instant messaging, AOL was quickly becoming the largest ISP in the world. They produced their own instant messaging client and put in to the software that every customer has on their machine, thus creating a very large instant user base. By this time, there were other IM clients on the scene such as MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger. Their programs were made to interface with AOL's client so that one could instant message anyone, regardless of their ISP. AOL quickly shut off access to thier system from other clients by changing protocols in the software. Instant messaging was a main attraction to their customers and if they could go elsewhere to get it, this could cost AOL current and potential customers.
AOL's Instant Messaging Monopoly?
- Should an ISP be able to cut off communication of this variety from users outside of the ISP's network?
- What is the incentive in IM to disallow connection from outside clients?
Instant messaging becomes big business
AOL vs. Everyone else
AOL's Instant Messenger has been nothing but a success, in fact their are now over 91 million users. Since then, several companies have tried to achieve that success with their own instant messenging program. Some of which have even allowed their program to message AOL users, but AOL has blocked all services that attempt this. Their argument is that they are putting AOL users at a security risk because programs such as MSN messenger ask AOL users for their password. Other services such as Yahoo! and Odigo have attempted similar asks but AOL continues to change the protocol used to communicate with AOL users. This leads us to the following questions:
- Is Microsoft in the wrong for wanting to give their users the power to communicate across different programs?
- Is it fair for Microsoft to put AOL users at a "security risk?"
- If AOL did not want other companies to use their communication protocol, then why did they make it available to the public?
Since everyone wants a piece of the IM pie, there have numerous battles waged between AOL and companies such as Microsoft and AT&T. There is still a constant struggle for the other clients to 'patch' their software to make it work with the AOL system. When these new patches are released, AOL changes their software protocols again. Most of the smaller clients have formed an alliance to come up with Instant Messaging standards. AOL did not join this alliance because they have a 90% market share and this would be against their best interests. But the smaller companies are starting to turn the tides. The government has started to poke its nose into the fray.
- Does AOL have a monopoly on the market? If so, does this require government interaction.
- FTC not likely to force AOL to open
- How can a monopoly exist on a product that is currently free?
- Should AOL be required to conform to a standard when one is agreed upon?
Microsoft is trying once again to use it's popular Windows operating system to push other products into the mainstream. You may recall a few years ago when this battle occured with web browsers against Netscape. The same battle is occuring today, however this time it is instant messaging. The battle is between Microsoft and AOL, who ironically now owns Netscape.
Microsoft is pushing its MSN messaging service by including it on all new Windows operating systems but an even bigger push will be when Microsoft's Hailstorm is released. This will incorporate MSN with other devices so for example if you bought something from a site, as soon as the item was shipped it would instant message you and add the arrival date to your Office calendar. This leads us to the following questions:
- Is it fair for Microsoft to incorporate other products with their operating system?
- Is Microsoft cutting off competitors, while increasing their market share of Windows?
- Is Microsoft's Hailstorm strategy to make users totally dependent on Microsoft?
Developing a Standard for Instant Messaging
Over the last year, several major companies including AOL, Microsoft, Cisco, and AT&T have met to design a standard for instant messenging. However, their is still not a standard and little progress has been made. Many are blaming AOL for blocking other programs from its instant messenger. In fact,Tribal Voice and iCast have accused AOL of monopolistic behavior, and asked the FCC to open up the AOL Instant Messenger system to competitors as part of the approval process for AOL's merger with media giant Time-Warner. This leads us to the following questions:
- Is AOL holding back production on making a standard for instant messaging?
- Does AOL already have a monopoly on instant messaging, considering it has a 91% market share?
- Is fair to ask AOL to release their instant messaging so that anyone can communicate with their users?
Instant Messaging for Business
The instant messaging boom started with the teenage demographic in the late '90s and now they are taking instant messaging with them into the workplace. Many employees are now using instant messengers, and many employers are becoming aware of the risks. The use of instant messaging in the office has raised some new questions:
- Should employers be allowed to block their employees from using instant messaging software?
- Should the use of instant messaging be limited to within the business's network?
- Is it ethical for employers to monitor instant messaging conversations?
Interoperability for Business Instant Messaging Solution
In recent months, the 'Big Three' of instant messaging (AOL, Yahoo, and MSN) have agreed to be interoperable. However, this new alliance will only affect a small portion of the total instant messaging user base. The majority of users use free, consumer-based IM clients that run on public networks. The agreement between the 'Big Three' will only benefit companies that purchase Microsoft's Live Communication Server 2005. Despite the settlement, it still does not look like the average user will be able to communicate across the three services. The use of instant messaging in the office has raised some new questions:
- Is it fair to limit interoperability to businesses that use Microsoft's LCS?
- Is it fair to exclude other instant messaging providers or server manufacturers from joining the interoperability agreement?