21 May 2013

Google abandons IM openness

There’s been a lot of speculation and misinformation about exactly how far Google is going in abandoning XMPP. I decided to spend a few minutes checking out for sure.

I set up Kopete on Linux with a jabber.org account, and tested interoperability with Google Talk (in Gmail) and Google Hangouts (both web and Android).

Here’s what I found:

  1. You can still receive XMPP messages and accept contact requests in Google Talk.
  2. XMPP messages do not show up in Hangouts, either the app or the web client.
  3. If you are online only via Hangouts, you show up as away in XMPP. Messages are accepted by Google, but they aren’t delivered until you log in to your Google account via XMPP or use the Gmail Google Talk sidebar.
  4. You can still add XMPP contacts to your Google Talk contact list, as long as they accept your request. However, they don’t show up in the Hangouts contact list.
  5. If you connect to Google’s XMPP server, you can carry on sending and receiving XMPP messages as if nothing had happened.
  6. If you connect to Google via XMPP and log in via a Google account, you can still message anyone, whether they use Hangouts or Gmail/Talk.

So basically, XMPP isn’t dead yet, but once you switch to Hangouts, XMPP users in general cannot send you messages; only Google account users. However, you can still connect via XMPP using your Google account and send messages that way.

In technical terms: XMPP federation is dead, but only for Hangouts users. XMPP still lives on in limited form for text-only chat using Google accounts, even for Hangouts users. It remains to be seen for how long Google will keep their non-federated XMPP service alive.

This basically makes Google exactly as proprietary as Facebook: They support XMPP for accessing their own chat system, but don’t interoperate with anyone else, and don’t offer full functionality even if XMPP as a protocol supports that functionality.

Given that this is the case, I no longer see any point in using Google’s IM offerings. More of my friends are on Facebook, and it’s no more proprietary than Google, so I may as well just give in and use Facebook, right?

So Google, unless you fix XMPP interoperability, you can say goodbye to me as an IM user.

© mathew 2017