TheGlobe.com unit guns for IM interoperability

Voiceglo, a subsidiary of TheGlobe.com, has released a test version of an application designed to create interoperability among four major consumer instant message (IM) networks.

The application, called GloConnect, lets users exchange text and voice instant messages across four major consumer IM networks: America Online's AIM and ICQ, Microsoft's MSN Messenger and Yahoo's Yahoo Messenger.

The caveat is that GloConnect works through the Web browser interfaces of those four IM networks, so users can't take advantage of the interoperability if they are using the IM networks through the companies' proprietary PC software, which is the primary way most users access the IM networks.

Still, GloConnect has the potential to be very useful, an analyst said. "If they can pull off seamlessly (the interoperability) -- and I don't have any data to suggest one way or the other -- I think it could be a very useful tool, because one of the key problems (in the IM market) is the lack of interoperability between these systems," said Michael Osterman, president of industry analysis company Osterman Research.

Although it seems GloConnect is the only company currently providing this type of IM interoperability, the company is bound to find itself with competitors soon, simply because demand for interoperability among IM networks is growing rapidly, Osterman said. "With the interoperability issue, you're going to see more of these kinds of solutions. As people use instant messaging more, they expect it to be like e-mail, where it doesn't matter which system you're on: You just communicate seamlessly across different systems," he said.

GloConnect, which also lets users place and receive phone calls from their Web-based IM interface, can be downloaded for free at www.gloconnect.com. The ability to exchange text and voice instant messages is free, as is the ability to make peer-to-peer VoIP phone calls to other GloConnect users. As for calling regular phones or wireless phones, users get 10 free minutes, after which they must sign up for a paid plan. GloConnect uses Voiceglo's existing GloPhone Web and PC-based telephony platform on the back end.

GloConnect unites the four IM networks through a network overlay technology, said Brian Fowler, chief technology officer of Voiceglo and TheGlobe.com. "We operate agnostic to the (different) IM protocols," he said.

Voiceglo is confident GloConnect will not be challenged legally by AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo because GloConnect simply enhances a user's IM application without logging into or connecting to the user's IM network, Fowler said. This is why Voiceglo works through the IM networks' Web-based interfaces, since trying to link the IM networks through their proprietary PC software would bring up a host of legal issues for Voiceglo, Fowler said.

The issue of IM network interoperability is a sensitive one, and AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo have been reticent to collaborate to allow the type of cross-network communication Voiceglo claims GloConnect can provide.

Cerulean Studios, for example, makes an application called Trillian that lets users aggregate IM contacts into the Trillian IM interface, so users don't have to have an IM interface open for each network they are logged into. But Fowler said GloConnect goes beyond simply consolidating IM contacts, by letting, for example, an AIM user communicate with a Yahoo Messenger user across network boundaries. Trillian users have to subscribe and log on to each of the IM networks in which they want to communicate.

Voiceglo expects to make money from GloConnect from the telephony fees and from serving up online ads to GloConnect users.

Voiceglo is working on modules that would make more IM features, such as specific emoticons or file transfers, available to GloConnect users across IM network boundaries, so that an AIM user could extend an AIM-specific feature to someone on MSN Messenger, for example, Fowler said.

Voiceglo is also developing features that it expects will make GloConnect attractive to enterprise users as well, he said.

GloConnect is expected to exit its beta status in early January, Fowler said. Currently, GloConnect works only with Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer browser (version 4.0 and later), but the company is working on supporting the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox and Opera Software ASA's Opera browsers as well.

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