This is a follow-up to this post from September.
When Google purchased a 5% stake in AOL is late 2005, it was announced that Google Talk and AOL Instant Messenger will become interoperable. However, a year passed, and there was no interoperability in sight, so many people, including me, began to think that it would never happen. After all, why would AOL open up what is arguably its most prized asset for a company with a measly 5% stake?
Well, according to Internet rumor mills on both Google's end and AOL's end, it's looking like the interoperability is going to happen this year. Better late than never, I guess.
What is most exciting about this, however, is what it will mean for the future of Jabber/XMPP if the largest IM network adopts Jabber/XMPP. And that is a big "if" because it's possible for AOL to achieve interoperability without actually adopting Jabber. The easiest way to achieve interoperability would be to set up a Jabber transport that acts as a sort of crude proxy in which Jabber users still need to register for an AIM account and where the transport basically acts as a liaison that hooks the AIM account to the Jabber account. A transport would be a superficial solution and one nullifies a number of the main benefits of Jabber/XMPP, namely the unifying of e-mail and IM addresses. The upside of transports is they are easy to implement; third-party Jabber transports that allow Jabber accounts to communicate with AIM, MSN, Yahoo!, etc. have existed for years and have been deployed by many organizations who use Jabber transports as a secure means for people on the internal network to connect to these external networks.
The other way to achieve interoperability is to make the AIM network speak XMPP. The AIM network is already "bilingual", in that one can communicate on the network using either TOC or Oscar, so adding XMPP support would simply involve adding a third parallel protocol. I am hoping that this is the solution that they are seeking because it would do much to advance Jabber/XMPP and because of the elegance of having "native" XMPP support. I think that this might be the case because of the wording of the Google rumor (though the language is ambiguous enough that it could just as easily be read the other way as well), because of how long it has taken (if they were just setting up a transport instead of doing "true" interoperability, they could have done it in a matter of weeks), and because of how nicely this fits with recent developments in the AIM network. With the launch of the @aim.com e-mail service, AOL has been getting people to equate buddy list screennames with e-mail address, pushing the idea that one's screenname is now email@example.com instead of just example. This is the first step to paving the way for a Jabber-like paradigm. And with AOL pushing a custom domain service, they now have people on the AIM network whose screennames are not in the form firstname.lastname@example.org, but are instead in the form of email@example.com. This sort of change would make a true Jabber implementation almost a necessity.
In any case, this is all just speculation. Here's to hoping that the interoperability happens the right way and that Jabber/XMPP will get the boost that it needs in 2007.