Remembering 9/11

Years ago I wrote a post on AOL Journals about September 11th, 2001 and the memories of the day. While I can’t link to that post anymore since AOL Journals was retired at the end of 2007, I still have the text from the post.

The day started like any other for me.  I got to AOL very early, around 8AM, thanks to living 10 minutes away from the office.  We were preparing for a release, and at that time the AIM build machine was in the QA Lab on the 3rd floor.  To make sure all the builds were kicking off properly I went up to the lab at 830A.  The TV in the lab had The Today Show on and in the next 18 minutes my view of the world was about to change.  The build was long done by the time the second plane hit the World Trade Center, but I was not about to stop watching.  Already shaken up by watching a plane crash into WTC, at about 940A, the fear hit much closer to home as images appeared of an explosion at the Pentagon.  Being directly under the flight path for Dulles where planes landing come over the building at about 500 feet, AOL decided to evacuate the buildings.  Life changed that day for me, as it did for countless others I am sure, but for that hour I was in the QA lab will sit with me forever.

One thing I remember most about that day is how AIM kept everyone connected.  Phone lines were tied up and email did not always work, but people’s online presence on AIM was reassuring to see and to know they were OK.  We heard from users for weeks after the attacks that AIM helped them through that day.

On September 11th, 2011 we need to never forget what happen 10 years ago.

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.

Gizmodo’s Obit for AIM

Gizmodo did a nostalgia post about how AIM was the first Facebook before there was even MySpace.  We used to say that all the time when I was at AOL, that we beat Twitter and MySpace/Facebook to the punch with a lot of the features users of those service love today.

It definitely brought a smile to my face to see Gizmodo praise AIM 5.x.  My favorite AIM version I worked on was AIM 5.5 on Windows, back when I still used a Windows machine.  That particular client really was close to perfect, and achieved perfection thanks to James Dennis’ DeadAIM addon that removed the Ad and added a few other key features.  CNet calls it plain, but by then we had built a nice Expression engine and had audio and video chat.

What made AIM so important back then was the away message which were as irrelevant as a lot of Tweets are today, like “In the Shower” or “I am watching Survivor.”  We used to watch our users in usability tests view each of their friends Away Messages.  It even drove us to create a simple web page where you could view all of your buddies current Away Messages and their profiles.

Ah, profiles, 1024  characters (HTML markup included) of personalized goodness.  This was MySpace years before Tom became everyone’s friend.  Profiles were so important, that when we launched the ill fated AIM Triton without profiles, I added an AIM plugin to put them back. (Props to Justin for keeping his old Running Man blog alive on Blogspot after AOL Journals was shut down.)

So while Gizmodo declares AIM dead, I think they missed the AIM Desktop death by a few years.  AIM is making a big push on being a web destination and they still have a respected mobile experience.  Hopefully AIM 5.5 can rest in peace, as the real-time communication platform moves on to what’s next.


AIM Moves to the Web with AV

I am proud that the last thing I worked on during my 11 years at AOL finally was released yesterday. AIM AV was something that was a long time coming. It addressed two of the bigger weaknesses AIM suffered. It was getting lapped by messaging clients on the web by Meebo and GTalk among others. The other area AV addresses is a new set of audio and video technology.

AV finally starts to get AIM away from the original audio video stack I wrote with others back in 2003 and refreshed in 2006. I am proud of the work we did 5+ years ago when we had the foresight to move away from Microsoft RTC and integrate ON2’s VP7 and Global IP Solutions. Later both those companies were acquired by Google and now make up a major part of WebM.

The new experience lowers the barrier to entry, where anybody can arrive at and immediately start a video conversation with a friend.  With no download necessary, getting non-technical people to use the product is super easy, no Geek Squad required.  Simply just copy and send the link. The team did a great job getting AV out the door and making it the easiest audio and video experience on the internet, congrats guys.

Why Microsoft Had an $8.5B Over-Reaction with Skype

Many people have covered ad nauseum the Microsoft purchase of Skype yesterday and what it means to Microsoft and Skype.  I wanted an evening to think about it and what it means to the real time communication space.  I kept returning to the same question, why did Microsoft need Skype, forgetting the billions it cost them.

Microsoft Was Worried About Facebook
Microsoft’s Live Messenger team has been looking for ways to combat the damage that Facebook started inflicting to their network’s health in Western Europe.  They started acknowledging the issue a year ago when Microsoft added a bunch of Facebook integration into Live Services.  The issue is that, as I knew would happen with AIM, was that is like putting a band-aid on a giant leak.

Microsoft Needs a Distribution Platform for Communication Tools
I have an issue with this theory as well. Microsoft has a great consumer platform for real time communication in XBox360, they have the enterprise space, and a potential mobile solution with the Nokia relationship.

Microsoft Needs Help with Improving Video Technology
This is plausible until you consider that Microsoft is part of the patent pool for H.264 and the Skype acquisition does not give them technology like browser based video (though Skype has been working on it). Skype might be able to help them on mobile platforms but Skype’s architecture may end up hurting Microsoft more than help them with enterprise customers.

Microsoft Needs a Strong Consumer Brand
This is the best reason I can think Microsoft executives talked themselves into buying Skype. Is Microsoft now saying the consumer internet space is once again important to the company? If you go simply by the balance sheet that can’t be right. Skype is a verb, and that alone is always worth considering when buying a brand.

For Skype, I wonder if this will be any different than when EBay acquired them? It’s hard to integrate a real time communication platform into a company with an existing strategy. I do know that the acquisition worked beautifully for the investors. As for Microsoft, time will tell if they over paid, but after 24 hours to me it still feels like an over-reaction.