Integrating the Islands of IM: The Continual Rise of XMPP
Where is the future of IM headed?
Instant messaging (IM) has increasingly become a more important topic of conversation for businesses who want to give their customers a wider, “omnichannel” experience. IM has appeared in everything from internal communication tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco Spark, to external solutions for communication like WhatsApp Business in recent months.
In the instant messaging world, Federated XMPP is the protocol that UC vendors are using to deliver real-time chat and instant messaging to their employees and customers. I spoke to Alex Rogers, the Development Director at Mondago and a participant at the recent XMPP summit, to find out his thoughts about the transformation of the IM landscape.
Introducing Alex Rogers
Alex Rogers is the Development Director at Mondago, a Unified Communications software company traditionally focused on CRM and database-driven applications. Using standards-based components, Mondago has been able to minimise their time-to-market and support costs, while giving customers more access to a wider range of telephony options.
Alex told me that during his time with Mondago, the business has frequently seen requests for “instant messaging” functionality.
“From the start, customers wanted us to add simple chat to our telephony clients, and now it seems that trends are going back in this direction. More people want a system that can offer telephony and IM in one, hence the rise of the UC vendor.”
Rogers noted that several UC vendors have delivered the combined instant messaging and telephony solution in a proprietary way, like Avaya, Unify, and Skype for Business. However, while the systems allow people to communicate with their colleagues through instant messaging, the ability to reach out to suppliers and other people outside their company is restricted. “There really is some unrealised potential here. It should be possible to communicate with anyone, even if they’re not part of your company.”
What’s Stopping the Adoption of Universal Instant Messaging?
The growth of UC as a communication strategy has brought real-time connectivity to the table. Instant messaging moves beyond email, because it allows users to see messages instantly, and even recognise the “presence” of people who are online. As generations are changing, millennials and younger consumers are looking for these faster, more agile options for communication, but there’s still some reluctance from vendors to replace the traditional email client.
Alex told me:
“I think there are three primary modes of communication right now. On one end of the spectrum, you have voice, which people use when they want an answer to a problem immediately. On the other end, there’s email, which people can pick up, open, and respond to at a time that suits them. Instant messaging is somewhere in between, and it’s a middle ground that more users are starting to adopt.”
What is the XMPP Summit?
Like many complicated topics in the Unified Communications sphere, the concept of XMPP has its own event where people can come together and discuss the rise and progress of the technology. According to Alex, without the forum that exists around this event, we wouldn’t see anywhere near as much annual progress in the IM world.
Rogers said that while you can phone a company and be connected instantly to the right person or email the business and get a response from the right agent, IM hasn’t yet evolved to that stage. One of the topics covered by the XMPP forum is how IM can be extended to create a more useful person-to-person connection in the business world.
“The forum also looks at the other concerns around instant messaging, like the concept of “SPIM” or IM-based spam. The more the popularity of instant messaging grows, the more important it will be for vendors to protect customers from spam, and even rising security issues.”
What Would You Like to See Happening with XMPP?
As Alex mentioned to fellow attendees of the XMPP summit this year, he believes that the adoption process for instant messaging isn’t as simple as it should be. “It’s not as simple as using your email address as your IM address. People need to be able to publicise their IM accounts and share them with other people. We need a method of discovery to help widen initial adoption, like people sharing their mobile numbers.”
Rogers also noted that XMPP is likely to become an important part of many UC Vendor strategies. “Team collaboration software is now on the rise, with Teams, Slack, Team One, and Cisco Spark. Unfortunately, the IM features in those tools aren’t necessarily designed to work together. For instance, there are currently two standards for how systems might work together. XMPP is one, and SIP Simple is the other. Microsoft prefers one, and Cisco prefers the other, meaning that there are already islands in communication.”
If IM is going to emerge as an alternative to email, like many people thought it would be in the beginning, then there needs to be a universal standard to ensure that all systems can work seamlessly together.
What Are Your Predictions for the Future
Like many of the technology experts witnessing the beginning of the instant messaging trend, Alex thought that the rise of IM in business was inevitable, but he believes it’s not growing as fast as it could be.
“It is starting to seem as though there’s a growing likelihood that one major multi-billion-dollar player will eventually develop a dominating proprietary solution.”
Alex agreed, however, that as more people jump into the XMPP landscape, it may be that major players are forced to start playing nicely together or run the risk of losing market share. Currently, it seems like we’re stuck in that difficult stage where everyone’s building their own collaborative islands, but not much joins together yet.
“Hopefully, it’s just a matter of time until the walls start to crumble. I always thought that the islands would join up, and it’s safe to say that the current situation isn’t ideal. There are so many different applications available, and users are being forced to jump from client to client depending on who they want to communicate with. This siloed experience can’t continue.”