Voiceglo has released a test version of an application designed to create interoperability between four major instant message networks.
The application, called GloConnect, lets users exchange text and voice instant messages across AOL's AIM and ICQ, Microsoft's MSN Messenger and Yahoo's Yahoo Messenger.
The caveat is that the program works through the web browser interfaces of those four networks, so users can't take advantage of the interoperability if they are using the companies' proprietary PC software, which is the primary way most users access the instant message networks.
"If they can pull off seamlessness, it could be a very useful tool, because one of the key problems in the instant message market is the lack of interoperability between these systems," said Michael Osterman, president of analysis company Osterman Research.
Osterman added that GloConnect was bound to find itself with competitors soon, simply because demand for interoperability among instant message networks was growing rapidly. "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."
GloConnect, which also lets users make and receive phone calls from their web-based instant messaging interface, can be downloaded for free at http://www.gloconnect.com.
Brian Fowler, chief technology officer of Voiceglo and its parent TheGlobe.com, said GloConnect united the four networks through a network overlay technology. "We operate agnostic to the different instant messaging protocols," he said.
Fowler was confident that AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo would not challenge GloConnect legally because it simply enhances a user's instant message application without logging into or connecting to the user's instant message network. Trying to link the instant message networks through their proprietary PC software would have raised a host of legal issues.
The issue of instant messaging network interoperability is a sensitive one, and AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo have been reluctant 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 instant message contacts into the Trillian instant message interface, so users don't need an instant message interface open for each network they are logged into. But Fowler said GloConnect went beyond simply consolidating instant message contacts, by allowing, for example, an AIM user to communicate with a Yahoo Messenger user across network boundaries.
Voiceglo expects to make money from GloConnect from the telephony fees and by serving up online ads to GloConnect users.
Fowler said Voiceglo was now working on modules that would make more instant message features, such as specific emoticons or file transfers, available to GloConnect users across instant message network boundaries.
GloConnect is expected to exit its beta status in early January. Currently, GloConnect works only with Internet Explorer 4.0 and later, but the company is working on support for the Firefox and Opera browsers as well.
Juan Carlos Perez writes for IDG News Service