Mr. Brin, Mr. Page, Tear Down This Wall!

[Update 2006-01-18: As of yesterday, Google supports S2S!]

Talk, talk, talk. Everyone’s talking about Google, well, you know. Aside from the standard Google buzz, Google Talk is getting a lot of interest because they implement the open Jabber instant messaging standard. To over-simplify, Jabber is to instant messaging what SMTP is to email; right now IM is the equivelenat of needed a Prodigy account to email Prodigy users, a CompuServe account to…

As it stands now (the day the beta launched), Google Talk speaks the Jabber protocol but it doesn’t enable the server to server (S2S) communication. This means that Google Talk is no different from any other IM network, except that there are a lot of clients already available. Jabber hasn’t hit the tipping point yet where the network’s value is enough to force other IM services to interoperate. If Google enables S2S, Jabber will hit that tipping point and I predict that walled-garden IM services will be largely gone in 2 years. So what’s stopping Google?

They address distributed IM and voice in the Service Choice section of their developer’s FAQ and it sounds like they want to open up to the network as a whole. They mention privacy and spam as reasons to delay opening up to the network as a whole, which are certainly valid concerns. Hopefully spam will not be a problem because people have to request authorization to contact you before they can, which means you have to add a spammer to your buddy list before they can spam you.

I think there’s another reason, though. I believe that Google will provide a service for Google Talk users similar to IM Smarter. They will provide a searchable history of all your IM chats, which will raise a lot of the privacy concerns people had about Gmail. Right now there’s a growing backlash against Google and more people start to worry about what Google knows about you.

Perhaps part of the reason they’re slow to open their servers to the network is because they are worried that logging every IM that passes through their network might be—cliché as it is—evil. IM is different from email in that most people don’t expect it to be archived. I freaked out a friend once by referring back to a logged conversation recently and I imagine that will play out frequently once conversations are as searchable as Gmail archives.

Google is a strange beast. Their motto is “don’t be evil” but their mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” and sometimes those things are opposed to each other. Take the recent case of Google refusing to talk to CNet because CNet used the Google search engine to obtain information on one of their executives. Obviously Google feels that sometimes making the world’s information universally accessible is evil.

Perhaps Google is thinking about whether making IM logs permanent and immediately available is evil, and that’s holding up the grand unification of IM? I don’t think it’s evil, but I hope that’s being considered.

Disclaimer: I used the Google search engine to research this blog post and if they didn’t want me to see any damning information about the company, I wouldn’t know about it.

Update: Alf Eaton looks at the Google Talk privacy policy, highlighting some clauses to think about.

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