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Aug 19 2010

Cross-Platform Instant Messaging – Do We Really Need It?

I have used various forms of instant messaging over the years and as one service has come to the fore others have paled into former shadows of themselves. For me, it all started with ICQ and AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) before MSN Messenger really started to absorb users in the later half of 1999 and the following years.

What was probably one of the best features of MSN Messenger at the time was its interoperability with the AIM network and the ability for users to communicate between the two services. What this meant was that users of both AIM and MSN Messenger could just use one piece of software and still chat with all of their contacts. This was a clever move by MSN to help grow its user base and get a leg up on a larger competitor.

Unfortunately, AOL made continual moves to block this cross-platform operation until this feature was eventually dropped from MSN Messenger but the damage had already been done.

Flash forward to 2010 and Windows Live Messager (as it is now called) allows communication with users of Yahoo! Chat and soon with contacts in Facebook. Sure, we have universal chat clients like Pidgin but I have never felt that they provide an elegant solution to the problem.

It seems these days that we have instant messaging coming out of our ears. I use four services, specifically:

  • Facebook,
  • Google Talk,
  • Skype,
  • Windows Live Messenger.

Each has some sort of benefit over the rest such as Google Talk being simple and uncluttered and Skype being best for video chat. Whilst there are overlaps of contacts between the services, I’m not convinced that having cross-platform chat is such a great thing. Having to add contacts to each service you use would be a pain and people would have to add you multiple times in each of their services to keep track of you across all of the services you use.

You would effectively be forced to choose one primary client that would satisfy the bulk of your requirements to save the amount of work to maintain your contact list. Besides, the features offered by all of these services do vary apart from the most fundamental being text based chat.

Whilst I think it’s a nice thing, I am not convinced cross-platform instant messaging is such a big deal. It adds some convenience for those who only use a particular service without having to sign up for another one but probably not such a killer feature for the rest of us.

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