Instant Mangling

October 5th, 2003  |  Published in Uncategorized

A few days ago, Ed had something useful to say about the state of instant messaging, which is that it’s what e-mail could have been had it remained where it used to be, as a service offered by each network provider. In other words, it’s a balkanized mess.

I certainly remember my first major dialup service account: it was with Quantum Link. It involved a 300 baud modem and all the basic tools we’ve come to expect, including a sort of instant messaging and e-mail.

In Q-Link’s hermetically sealed system, there wasn’t an outside world to communicate with. E-mail was between Q-Link users, as it was for the people living in Compuserve, Delphi, Prodigy, Dow Jones, and the rest. I graduated from Q-Link well before it morphed into America Online, and I remember being vaguely mystified the first time I encountered a VAX VMS system that could send mail messages to other systems via Bitnet ca. 1991. A year or so later, I had a bona fide “Internet account” with a university, and that was that: I could deal with e-mail about the same as I do today. If I had someone’s address, I could mail him. It worked from a dumb terminal, it worked from a PC running Pegasus, and it worked from South Korea, even if I did once clock a message at 28 hours when an ocean storm killed the Korea/Japan link briefly.

Wish I could say the same about IM.

My current IM outlay includes accounts on three different services (AOL, Yahoo!, and my own Jabber server). AOL’s mostly for work contacts, Yahoo!’s for some friends, and Jabber’s because if there’s another soul who wants to use it, I won’t be the one to discourage him.

I don’t know what sort of consensus process drives the stereotypical online teen who communicates with all of her friends over IM. Perhaps simple adolescent pecking order hierarchies assert themselves, so if Heather, Heather, and Heather are all using Yahoo!, Veronica and Martha know they’d better as well. As Ed also noted in a chat we had on the matter, adults are harder to sway. He’s got AOL and Yahoo friends who are intransigent because they’re just set in their ways (and that’s fair enough), so if he wants to stay in touch that way, he better have an account on both networks.

The latest irritation happened when Yahoo broke outside access to its network, forcing client developers to scramble to figure out how to reconnect. It broke my favorite client for several days.

Personally, I think I’ve had it. I’ve got an e-mail address and it works reliably enough: IM is just enough of a hassle that I won’t pin any part of my online identity on it.

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