Today I woke up, logged onto Yahoo! Messenger, and pinged my friend Blake Irving, head of Microsoft's Windows Live Platform Group, to applaud him and his team. Congratulations are definitely in order, as today marks a true milestone in Internet history. For the first time ever, interoperability (a.k.a. interop) between consumer instant messaging (IM) services is possible.
In July, Microsoft and Yahoo! introduced interop on a limited basis and received an overwhelming response. In just two months more than 90 million messages were sent and received across our networks — a level of usage that is a dream for us Internet geeks. Of course, this response wasn't too surprising as we know that the ability to connect with other IM services is our users’ number one request. In fact, in a recent survey we found one in four respondents said connecting IM services is the next best thing since the creation of the cell phone. Today, the feature becomes available to everyone. Our combined communities — approaching 350 million user accounts — will be able to connect with friends and family across our instant messaging services. That's huge, my friends.
This partnership really has all the makings of a marriage (humor me here). We went on dates, met each other's parents, studied each other's philosophies, and looked for habits that might drive us nuts. After our courtship rituals, we concluded that we really were compatible.
So what do two fierce competitors do before heading for the altar to make their products work together? Our first step was outlining joint guiding principles to ensure we were working against common goals throughout the negotiation process. They were simple and effective: Address our users' number one request, get to market swiftly, make our interoperability easy to use, and grow the overall size of the IM market.
These touchstones played an integral role in a fundamental decision: establishing a server-to-server connection. Translation? Allowing consumers to sign into one IM service with one ID to connect across both services. (The Trillian service, in contrast, requires you to sign into multiple IM services with multiple IDs). This was not our initial approach as it was a huge technological undertaking. But our guiding principles set us straight as both teams agreed this was the only way to do right by consumers.
When I look at the competitive dynamics around IM, I get really jazzed. As the business guy, I'm obviously interested in seeing the IM market grow and I think today's milestone will fuel that. It will also forever change the way IM services compete. Historically consumers chose their IM service based on where their friends were hanging out online. With interoperability, people will start choosing their service based on the features they want. This is analogous with how people choose e-mail services today, since they're all compatible. Why should IM be any different? At the end of the day, the biggest winner of this trend is you, the consumer.
Since no back story is complete without a few insider insights:
- Because of the confidential nature of the project, Yahoo!’s internal code name was “Morpheus.” Clearly a business development guy was a fan of The Matrix — once people were in the know, there was no going back.
- To spice up negotiations, our business teams used "Larry," "Mo" and "Curly" to help keep our players straight in hypothetical scenarios. You're on your own as to who's who.
- To celebrate interop going into beta, Blake Irving and I caught the final World Cup match in Germany. The picture you see below is Blake (left) and me standing in front of the Berlin Wall. Assign whatever irony you like.
Making this milestone possible was exciting, exhausting, stimulating, taxing, entertaining, but most importantly, it was rewarding. We hope you'll agree.
Senior Vice President
Communications, Community & Front Doors