AIM and Google Talk Federate…Off with the Multihead

Can we finally put to rest the multiheaded IM clients that require me to log into 5 different services?  My former colleagues at AOL finally turned on federation with Google after 4 years of Google running an AIM multiheaded server in their data center.

The Old AIM GTalk Multihead Logo

Turning off the multihead unwinds one of the most over engineered solutions in the history of messaging.  When AOL and Google did the original deal around messaging in 2006, we were not ready to do federation, so we proposed a multihead.  At the time the negotiations started Google only had a desktop client, but soon after we started talking Google unleashed something called Caribou on us.  Caribou was the code name of Gtalk in GMail, and needless to say it threw a wrench into our plans.  In the end Google wrote a server side multiheaded experience using a client side library that had to handle 1000s of threads.  It was a miracle it worked, and a lot of great engineers made it happen.  Thank goodness we can turn it off now.

With federation comes the hope that we can break down the walls of the IM networks that have existed for 12+ years.  For users they get the ability to talk to their friends regardless of networks and use the application they like best.  For the networks, federation means an application battle royale.  Personally, I will use GTalk when I am at my laptop at work since we use Google Apps here at Clearspring.  For my iPhone and iPad I use AIM because Google’s mobile experience on iOS is lacking.

Let’s hope that the other networks can figure out how to federate with each other and we can all stop using clunky multiheaded IM applications.

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