Freemors Blog

Musings of an East Coast Techie
Posts tagged as freedom

Why isn't Instant Messaging like E-Mail?

2015-08-04 by Freemor


Who stole my freedom and why

Have you ever wondered why you can e-mail anyone with any e-mail account but you can only chat to people on the same service as you? It's a really good question and the answer will surprise you.

The fact is you, I, Anyone CAN chat (IM) to anyone anywhere. The technology exists and is in use all over the place today. The reason most people don't is because of two things.

A) The big companies don't want you to
B) The big companies don't want you to

I know, I know, A and B look a lot the same but really they are two sides of the same coin. Lets start with A.

The Big Companies Don't want you to (A)

The Internet's big boy Google,Yahoo, Facebook, Msn, etc Want to make money off of you and since the first days of Instant Messaging companies realized it was a "killer feature" everyone raced to have the best chat (IM) application. And they made sure that their chat wouldn't chat to the other guys. Why? Because they want to make money off of you... not just you... you, your friends, their friends, your kids, your kids friends, etc. They want to monetize as many users as they can... and they understand that if all your friends are on "Super X chat" then chances are good that you'll cave to presure and use "Super X chat". Partly because all your friends are on it... partly because all those people being on it creates a lot of "buzz" so you hear about it a lot more. Partly because of branding. It is a potent mix. The big companies understand this and intentionally screw you out of your freedom (to chat to anyone) in a bid to pressure your friends and family to also join. Big companies see IM as the crack that will get not just you but all your friends hooked on them. So they never tell you there is another option. In fact they lie and say it cant be done because of X, Y, and/or Z

Having a lot of people using one Instant messenger creates a LOT of pressure for others to use it. Big companies understand this. It even has a name "The Network effect". The more people there are using a particular instant messenger (or any other social thing) the more people will gravitate to it and the harder it is to leave. Think of it like a social black hole. The bigger it gets the more and faster it pulls people in and the harder it is to escape. For the big companies this means lots and lots of customers and lots and lots of money. For you and your friends this means getting screwed out of your freedom to talk to anyone... because now you can only talk to people on "Super X chat" and the only way to talk to a person not on it... is to get them hooked too.

The big companies don't want you too (B)

The free and open protocol I mentioned before (XMPP) is just that, free and open. None of the big companies control it, much like the protocol that runs E-mail, in fact your username on XMPP looks just like an E-mail address and if you are lucky it can be the same as you E-mail address, Mine is.

Just a quick note here for the everyday users. All Instant Messenger systems are comprised of two parts. The protocol. a definition of how software using the system will talk to one another and the sotware. Now it is understandable that most people don't know this distinction because Skype software speaks the Skype protocol and since Microsoft controls the protocol and wont tell or let others figure out how it works ONLY the Skype software speaks it. Thus the average user never sees the distinction between protocol and software with instant messaging. You do with E-mail because the protocol is open and not controlled by any one company so there are hunderds of different E-mail programs that can all talk to one another.

So if companies were to properly implement XMPP they would lose control, you wouldn't have to be on their network, you wouldn't even have to use their software. They couldn't force ads on you. It would be much harder to track and profile you. They'd lose control of you and the leverage they had over your friends. They also would loose the ability to add and remove features willy nilly. They'd have to try to be as standard as possible so that you didn't suddenly find yourself unable to talk to friends or you'd just leave and go get another account. Imagine if gmail suddenly stopped being able to send mail to Yahoo because of some "feature", no one would put up with that. So instead of being the crack that gets you hooked on the big companies they'd see it as a burden "have to provide to compete" type service and they really don't like those.

With all that it is no wonder that so few people have heard of XMPP. If people knew they'd leave the big boys in droves and never come back.

So How do I do this XMPP thing?

Pretty easily actually:

But here is the hard part...

You refuse to let Big Companies screw you out of you freedom by using a "popular" Instant messenger. As soon as you do that no one on that service will switch. You loose. They loose. Big company wins and continues to screw people out of their freedom.

It is that last bit, the "Network Effect" that is hindering XMPP as much as the big guys not talking about or using it. People that do know and make the move over to XMPP are often faced with loosing contact with friends. The thing to remember is, if enough people switch then the "Network Effect" will be on our side. The more people there are using XMPP the more people will want to use XMPP. And suddenly it wont matter what IM software you like or what server you are on, you'll be able to talk to anyone anywhere. Just like E-mail.