As many have said before, Jabber is to instant messaging what SMTP is to email:

Today most people understand instant messaging almost entirely in terms provided by AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo. As with on-line services and operating systems, closed IM systems became familiar to the general public long before the open ones. In terms of architecture and control, AOL’s, Microsoft’s and Yahoo’s instant messaging systems are as closed and non-interoperable as Prodigy, Compuserve and AOL were back in the [early] nineties.

In other words, AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo all want to keep private something that should be no less public than mail and web services. All of those companies’ IM systems use the Internet and offer free clients, but they offer no internet service anybody can build on.

This quote dates back from 2001… After all these years I at last consider the Jabber ecosystem to reach both reasonnable usability and critical mass. I believe we can thank Google for tipping the scale. So what’s next ?

I have said it privately since 2002 : the buddy list will become the center of user interaction with the mobile “phone”. Presence management holds every synchronous media together. Through presence management, messaging has moved from the periphery of the desktop toward its core. It changes the environment in which other services interoperate. For example it makes the answering machine obsolete : no one is going to knowingly initiate a call when there is on one on the other end. And the buddy list is where convergence happens : any communication can be initiated from there, not just what the operator deems reasonnable to provide.

As usual the operators are busy fighting rear-guard action, but they cannot keep the customer from craving the ideal of the Stupid Network. GPRS and UMTS enable innovation at the edge and that is the end of the walled gardens. Of course capital expenditure and spectrum scarcity still provide them with a fairly entrenched position, but we are now firmly in Internet land and there is no going back.

So as we all have been thinking all along, the open protocol takes over the closed ones. It takes time, but it is inexorable. The mobile networks are next and they know it… But that does not mean they can avoid it.

Mobile network operators will not like it but instant messaging is going to be priced at bulk data prices, not anywhere near the EUR 1000 a MB that they can get away with for SMS. Earlier attempts to sell services instead of selling raw data have met mixed responses – it will only get worse and I do not believe this to be only my wishful thinking.