]> Matthias Wimmer (溫雅石)

Locked-in by Google

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For several years now WhatsApp is spreading on the smart phones of my contacts. Of course my friends are asking me to install the software as well. But I hate using a proprietary service if there are open alternatives. This open and comprehensive alternative was and is Jabber respectively XMPP (two names for the same thing).

But this is nothing more then a protocol. Especially nothing anybody could use. What a Jabber user needs is software and a service provider. Until now my recommendation for both was Google Talk. The software perfectly integrated and pre-installed on every Android phone. An easy to use user interface, comprehensible to John Doe. Nothing made for freaks by nerds. And as an operator Google provided a rock solid service.

That was a smasher: you could get everything well co-ordinated from Google, you could chat with users of other providers, and you could even operate our own server if you wanted to. Real class!

With my denial of using a closed system and my continuing referral to free alternatives, I brought several contacts to Google Talk.

Google Talk gets Hangouts

At the I/O 2013­–Google's annual developers conference–“Talk” has become “Hangouts”. A reasonable move. The last years Google had started several communication products, that had not work well with each other. Besides “Google Talk” there was “Google Voice”, “Google+ Messenger”, the previous “Hangouts”, and some time they even had “Google Wave”. For a user it was confusing to have different products to do essentially the same: communicate with their contacts. You could have your contacts multiple times: in Talk, in Google+, and so on. Before you started to chat, you had to decide which application to use this time. Thus I am completely fine to integrate everything into one product. Using a communications product must be easy and clear.

But actually there was another thing that happened at the same time: Google decided to close their platform. Until now Google users where able to communicate with users of other providers. Nikhyl Singhal, director product management real time communications at Google expressed it (starting 5:07 in the video below): "Hangouts is not based on top of the XMPP standard. […] We have essentially made a hard decision to focus less on the XMPP standard and more on what are users looking for." Well maybe that sounds good, but with regards to content it is dreck.

As I said XMPP is a protocol and nothing the user is working with. Users care about the experience, the interface, and the fun. Where is the conflict? Why not concentrate on all the things a user cares and still building this based on top of XMPP? XMPP is the "eXtensible Messaging and Presence Protocol". The key word here is "extensible". There is really no problem to create all the nice things Google wants to deliver using XMPP.

In my opinion the actual reason of Google to close their platform is something else: Google wants to look users onto their services. It is not wanted anymore, that users may communicate with users of other providers. Google wants these other people to have an account at Google as well.

YouTube video

This is very similar to another shut down of a Google service next month: Google Reader. This as well is a product, that allows Google users to subscribe to and read feeds from third party services. Google closes this service supposedly in the hope, that former Reader users start using Google+ instead. (No need to mention, that on Google+ you can only subscribe to content of other Google+ users.)

What now?

The reason why I used Talk instead of other messengers has fallen away. I do not want to be caged in the service of a single provider. My formally Google hosted Jabber address m@tthias.eu is now hosted on a free server again. I am stilly also reachable using the same address on the Google Hangouts platform. But probably this will stop sooner or later.Until then I am looking for a user friendly Jabber application for Android, that I able to work well with mobile internet connections. Who knows, maybe the application is already there, I just do not know it yet. After Google announced the shut down of Reader I also was surprised to find Feedly. Some software that already did exist and feels better than what I used before. Recommendations are always welcome.

And what's about WhatsApp? If Google is not better anymore, will I start supporting what “everyone else already uses”? No, I do not think so.

Further reading

Unless otherwise credited all material Creative Commons License by Matthias Wimmer