I'm a generally tolerant person, but there are some things that really, really piss me off. And on this particular issue, I know I'm not alone. Not by a long shot.

The Yahoo Messenger team's habit of screwing with the protocol every once in a while is one of those things. As CNet Asia reports in Users fume over Yahoo-Trillian scuffle, they made a change last night the did quite an excellent job of pissing off anyone using a third party IM client, not just Trillian.

The media likes to frame it as a big guy vs. little guy story, but that's really not what it's about at all. From my point of view, it's about having your head buried in the sand so far that reality doesn't really enter the picture.

I haven't kept track of how many times the protocol has changed in the last few years. But what I have noticed is that the elapsed time between a protocol change and when the third party clients (Gaim, Trillian, etc) adapt is quite short. It's like fighting the Borg. They just keep adapting. The messenger group randomizes their shield harmonics, but it doesn't help for long.

But hey, it supposedly stops IM spam before it happens. (I haven't had a single IM spam in about 3 years and my Yahoo ID has been public all along. Maybe I'm the only one?)

The more I think about how many of my friends get pissed off and end up cursing Yahoo's name, the more it bugs me. Often times they take it out on me, so I can't help but to notice.

In some ways it feels a bit too much like DRM to me. In fact, I wonder how many of the points from Cory's DRM talk would apply. Hmm, let's try it.

Screwing with the messenger protocol...

  1. doesn't work. (Witness the rapid adaption of 3rd party clients.)
  2. is bad for soceity. (Because it cuts friends off from each other.)
  3. is bad for business. (Because it ends up giving users a good reason to hate Yahoo.)
  4. is bad for artists. (Okay, this one does not apply.)
  5. is a bad business move for Yahoo. (Because IM networks need to figure out how to interoperate not keep each other out. Isn't communication the whole point?! Or is it segregation?)

The simple fact is, and this goes for ALL the major IM networks, that some of the third party clients are simply better than those they offer (especially on non-Windows platforms). These clients speak to multiple networks and make users lives eaiser (imagine that!). They sport tabbed conversations and some users like that. They're scriptable and easy to extend. That means plugins and other cool toys.

But what do I know? I've only been using this technology with my friends every day for the last five years or so.

The only solution I can see for this involves Google. They came in and shook up the Web Mail "industry" (thereby enabling the Internet Hard Disk). They could launch a Google Messenger which is built upon an open standard and API. Knowing them, it'd be Jabber.

I think you can probably figure the rest out from there...

And, yes, I realize that I'm far from being the first person to suggest this.

Posted by jzawodn at June 24, 2004 10:20 PM

Reader Comments
# Joost Schuur said:

Hold on now, this is nothing like the recent DRM solution where publishers are frantically trying to tie down their content.

Yahoo (and AOL and Microsoft) are running a service with their messaging software, and they have significant resources invested in running and maintaining backend servers which track users, route messages and store them. Along comes a client like Trillian and piggy backs all over that for free.

I understand that people will write clients with more features and less ad tie-ins (I registered Trillian myself and use it), but Cerulean Studios (and anyone else making an alternative client) have no right to complain if there's a protocol change that they can't circumvene.

on June 24, 2004 11:15 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

But it *is* a lot like the DRM situation in one very, very important way: how it makes the screwed users feel.

Was that not abundantly clear?

on June 24, 2004 11:25 PM
# Atul Chitnis said:

Google thrives on using open standards and protocols. When they bring out gmessenger, the open source world will happily support them by showing their non-intrusive, text-based ads, which is google's extremely functional business model.

No business model based on exclusion and non-cooperation has ever made it in the long run.

on June 25, 2004 12:55 AM
# Philip said:


on June 25, 2004 02:44 AM
# Aquarion said:

The answer is obviously for everyone to switch to Jabber, which is free, open and easy.

Why don't people do so? Because none of their friends already have an account. Although if Google tied into the jabber network that might change things.

on June 25, 2004 04:03 AM
# JK said:

Yahoo and others could get away with this treatment of users until Google came along and changed the rules.

Now they are, as you so rightly point out, trashing their brand.

What value will all that IM investment have when most users suddenly migrate to a different standard and a different business model?

The traditional approach to managing tech businesses was based on the observation that these migrations happen only slowly. Google has shown otherwise.

on June 25, 2004 06:53 AM
# Rasmus said:

Gaim is working fine again.

on June 25, 2004 07:09 AM
# Pete Caputa said:
on June 25, 2004 08:24 AM
# Pete Caputa said:

trying link again

on June 25, 2004 08:25 AM
# David Zotter said:

Hey Jeremy, a few points... I'm all for Free & Open... but your employer has to pay your hefty Zwodney salary....in some cases through closed software. :-)

1) Why should Yahoo pay for a giant infrastructure and software development that 3rd parties get to take advantage of for FREE?

2) I understand your points, however, Yahoo is in the business of making money, competing, and not supporting 3rd parties. For every person using Trillian, that's likely one less person with the Yahoo Messenger installed.... which subtracts from future revenues generated by messenger for YHOO. I've got a nice webpage with my own advertising, can I host it in one of Yahoo's data centers even though it could potentially subtract from revenue YHOO earns?

3) Just because you don't get spammed, doesn't mean other people do not. and related.... security flaws are bound to be found in Yahoo Messenger, or Windows where Yahoo Messenger is the trigger. All it is going to take is one worm that leverages Yahoo Messenger... and well, it won't be pretty....

on June 25, 2004 08:59 AM
# Michael Bernstein said:

A few points:

1) "unlike with publishers, IT infrastructure costs money". Not sure this actually needs rebutting, but the music, book, and movie publishers all stress the need to cover their sunk costs and rail against freeloaders, so this isn't any different.

2) The real advantage Jabber has over the current alternatives is that it is inherently decentralized, just like email. Eventually all or most ISPs will start running their own Jabber servers for their customers, and disintermediate the portals. Nothing is really stopping the ISPs from charging ahead except inherent conservatism. Maybe they're just waiting to solve the email spam problem before adding a new service.

3) Google might be the one to push the ISPs over the edge, if they launch a well designed web-interface that archived all your chats (and probably displayed contextual advertising) and create a critical mass of Jabber users. This is, I think, a good revenue model based on a value added service, instead of controlling the client and displaying intrusive ads *during* the chat. I know I would find it convenient to have all of my chats archived, searchable, and accessible to me through the web.

on June 26, 2004 09:47 AM
# Dave Hodson said:

Here's the problem I think - the "public" networks aren't public at all. Folks like Trillian are using a private resource for free. I liken it to this - what would happen if you were a phone phreaker and made free long distance calls? MCI, etc would be after you, bigtime.


on June 27, 2004 08:49 PM
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on April 27, 2005 10:00 AM
# DN05 said:

I like your take on this issue, and I agree with it as well, big companies do sometimes get arrogant and do this like this though.

I'd also like to take this time and explain my blog at http://messengercharity.blogspot.com that shows you how to instant message for charity step-by-step using Microsoft's IM' initiative.

Once again it's http://messengercharity.blogspot.com

on January 12, 2008 03:48 PM
# Kate said:

I have to say, I ditched Yahoo IM a while ago because of exactly this kind of problem. Seems like Yahoo has been breeding a lot of bad will lately.

on May 31, 2009 07:26 PM
# Brosix Blogger said:

I totally agree. I think that protocol should always stay the same. The problem is though, since IM and online communication is such a rapidly growing and changing medium, it's probably hard to define a set of standards to stick by, especially if the technology is always changing.

on October 18, 2009 06:58 PM
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