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This phase jumped out at me: “Google's grand unification theory may find favor with users tired of IM's historic Balkanization.”
It grabbed me on several levels.
First, I’m struck by the fact that Google is pursuing a grand unification theory (GUT) strategy, in terms of amassing a motherload of users, applications, content, and partnerships around its brand. That’s so 90s.
Second, the fact that Google is doing so while pursuing a “by invitation only” strategy re Gmail is paradoxical, but, in a way, that’s so 00s. The 90s GUT strategy—mastered by Microsoft and Yahoo—was “invite everybody and everything, throw every last scrap of free content and app functionality you have at them, and hope that some cash bubbles up out of the brew.” And, it worked, to the extent that Yahoo is marvelously profitable, Microsoft’s holding it own, and Google, to a great extent, is riding their business models to sustainability.
However, Google has come of age in the post-dotcom-crash post-9/11 world, in which the gated community—not the public commons—is the preferred governance model. It’s invitation-only strategy on Gmail is a gated community that provides the appearance of being more exclusive and/or secure than MSN Hotmail or Yahoo Mail or any other free webmail service. Though it’s still free. People are flocking to Gmail because of this perceived exclusivity. The Gmail brand has that cachet, and Google shouldn’t tamper with it. That’s among their chief differentiators in the commoditized cyberbrand world.
In many ways, IM is a perfect complement to Gmail. IM historically has been a “gated community” collaboration environment of trusted peers. Even in a “public commons” IM environment like AIM, MSN Messenger, or Yahoo Messenger, every user ropes off their own personal gated community in the form of buddylists that are invited to pub/sub their respective presences and thereby exchange messages.
Essentially, IM is a collaboration service where “Balkanization” is part of the core traditional concept. You don’t want everybody on earth to be able to see your presence or pop those annoying messages on your screen. So the service must be Balkanizable from the get-go in order for it to retain its core value, as the enabler of personal gated communities.
Which explains why open standards have been slow to gain traction in the IM space. Five years ago, I predicted that IM standards such as the then-new SIP/SIMPLE would soon dominate the space. Soon, Jabber emerged and promoted XMPP, which has also received IETF’s imprimatur as an alternate open standard. Most of the IM service providers and product vendors committed to implementing one or both of these specifications, and to gatewaying amongst themselves. Some of which has actually happened, but how many of you are on IM systems that make use of such open protocols and/or gateways to enable any-to-any multivendor B2B IM?
I’m not. And I’m sure few of you are as well.
That’s because open standards are not users’ top priority in application environments such as IM that thrive on exclusive peer groups—aka gated communities.
Google should continue to develop itself as the premium brand for search, webmail, VoIP, and other services on the Internet—without charging premium prices. A certain snob appeal can provide the halo around a brand that keeps the hoi polloi forever clamoring for access. And willing to pay for access to that inner circle.
Nice trick if Google can carry it out. If they have the vision and the nerve.