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An Inside Look At Yahoo! Messenger

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I attended a pre-launch briefing for the new Yahoo Messenger. I have to hand it to the folks at Yahoo for having people like me …

Stowe and others come by to give them a hard time and risking embargo break. We didn’t have to sign an oppressive NDA, as is common practice at certain convicted monopolists, and people there kept an open mind.

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So anyway, the big news is Messenger is adding voice. The press may (rightly, IMHO) characterize this as a move to avoid the loss of users to Skype. Skype is shaking up more than the telecom market, but there is also a general collision of wireless, PSTN and IP networks, their devices, and their apps at play. One factoid from the briefing that cut my ear is in Korea the usage of email is going down — a broadband effect. While the ability to escalate to voice is indeed in demand, I’m concerned about it’s effects on productivity and believe de-escalation holds greater promise.

With every IM vendor moving towards voice because of Skype –interop is even more critical. Without vendor cooperation, they will integrate through another standard — PSTN. Perhaps the pressure of having to deal with phone companies, a new common enemy, may help them just get along.

The real advance of the new Messenger client is the tabbed client that supports a plug-in architecture. This brings in more of the Yahoo! universe, such as 360 integration for sending a Blast for more unified communication. Can set your Blast to be your status message, and I would expect deeper integration across modalities and communities to provide real leverage.

But picture this scenario: someone builds a tab for AIM or Yahoo Messenger or even Skype, then let’s the client bridge networks. Suddenly you get a real unified client, Trillian built on an open platform. I believe Yahoo! has swallowed the open pill as they have with RSS on the publishing side. If some daring independent hacker made this first move, perhaps this could arbitrage proprietary networks. It wouldn’t be a cure all, but could prompt moves by the IM networks to do what users really want — interop.

Disclosure: a coffee mug, headset, latte and cafeteria lunch that wanted to disclose itself was consumed at the point of influence, which may or may not have resulted in bias or indigestion.

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Ross Mayfield is CEO and co-founder of Socialtext, an emerging provider of Enterprise Social Software that dramatically increases group productivity and develops a group memory.

He also writes Ross Mayfield’s Weblog which focuses on markets, technology and musings.

An Inside Look At Yahoo! Messenger
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