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Hugo Osvaldo Barrera

Software Developer. Python Lover. IT Consultant.

I'm giving up on IM

I’ve been using XMPP as my primary IM protocol for years now. I’ve used a few other things on the side, but I’ve always advertised it as my primary mean of communication. And it’s really worked for a long time: lots of developers and people in FLOSS circles use XMPP, and Google Talk federated as XMPP too, so that worked for less tech-inclined users.

In recent years, I also ended up having to use Facebook’s IM a bit more as well, since a lot of people I know only used that to online communication. It wasn’t a big hassle, since they used to expose their IM as XMPP too.

XMPP kinda died

Yup, it’s time to admit it’s died. Even as a long time proponent of open, federated protocols, and XMPP, I can’t just deny the truth.

These last few years, though, we’ve been going back to the dark ages: All these IM providers closed up their networks behind unfederated (and sometimes proprietary) protocols. Lots of new protocols/networks started appearing, and people started migrating left and right to all of them.

Most of these new protocols have only a subset of the features that XMPP had to offer, but XMPP had a big problem: most features were optional extensions, and finding a client that had them all, was non trivial. You then had to make sure the other person was in the same situation.

So convincing people that XMPP is superior is hard: the protocol and its extensions can offer more, but in reality, it’s not so superior (mostly due to lack of client/server features, not the protocol itself).

There’s no client I can recommend to people, and many Google Talk users have moved on to Hangouts, which does not federate, and are thus, unreachable. Less reachable people makes it hard to attract users, regardless of technical merit.

There’s no sucesor

But that’s not all of it. Even after giving up on free and open IM protocols, and admitting you need to move elsewhere to keep in touch with fellow humans, there’s really nowhere to go. People have moved to diverse IM networks, and different groups of people use different things - and they’ll even claim “but everyone uses XXX”, where XXX can be replaced by:

(Note: This list goes on quite a bit. I just can’t be bothered to think further about it).

Telegram users are the only one who seem to admit that it’s not very popular, but they chose it because they like it and/or it’s FLOSS and openly documented (even though the protocol itself is unfederated). And there’s also quite a few there.

So basically, IM is back to where it was on 1999. Lots of islands with lots of users in each, no single network where you can reach everybody, and closed protocols which means no multi-protocol clients.

Things like Pidgin (which I’ve used for around a decade) have stagnated, and don’t support these newer proprietary protocols. The only solution seems to be to keep open several browser webapps at all time, draining CPU and Battery. All just in case somebody who’s on that particular network will try to reach me.

Can I blame all those people? Not really. They couldn’t have chosen better. XMPP failed marketing-wise, and the implementations are lacking, and there’s not real decent second choice. People just fled to what looked nicer at the time.

The saddest part of all this, is that there’s no lesson to be learnt. It’s just history repeating itself, and we’ll all pay the price for this in a few years time.

Maybe next time, we can educate people as to what happens with isolated networks, proprietary protocols, and just picking what looks nicest. For now, it’s either go with the flock, or stop talking to people around you.

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