The theory was simple. The Internet would break down the barriers of communication and bring us all closer. It would bridge geographical divides and create a homogenous planet Earth where everybody was one single click away.
Ah, the 90s: such halycon, care-free, simplistic times. I miss them.
What we’ve ended up with in reality is communication overload, where no part of our day isn’t interrupted with chat, gossip and tiny streams of other people’s consciousness invading our personal space.
On my desk I have two 19″ monitors staring back at me; a fairly typical set-up for somebody who does my job. It allows for extended “real estate” to see our creations take shape on one screen, with all the troublesome menus, palettes and the like on the second screen.
Oh – and it means we have room for all our contact software too.
I have accounts with: MSN, ICQ, iChat/AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, Skype and Twitter. They all wire me in to different communication ecosystems and ensure that anybody with a computer and an Internet connection can say hello, tell me their latest news, send me files and generally get in the way of my doing a productive day’s work.
“Switch ‘em off and stop complaining” you might think. Not a chance: in their own way, each and every one of them is an invaluable life-line to people I *need* to speak to on a daily basis. Clients and suppliers, we all communicate at times through a computer-based network, finding its instant nature a handy addition to the day’s workflow.
And now there’s Facebook Chat; striding like a behemoth across the communication landscape, swotting aside all the established players and making a landgrab for hearts, minds and bandwidth.
Welcome addition or irritating distraction? The jury’s still out. Yes it’s a nice little addition to the Facebook empire – “Oh, Bob’s online, I’ll say hello” but as a replacement for MSN and the like? Not a chance. Not yet anyway.
It’s not the avenues for communication I have a problem with, as such, it’s the requirement to have separate bits of software to deal with them all. I make my life a little simpler by using Adium, which gives me one friends’ list for MSN, ICQ, iChat/AIM and Yahoo! Messenger. But it’s not perfect, I see some friends twice or more if they’re using multiple systems too and it means I lose some of the “features” of each system (no video chat – yet!).
What I want is one system, one application, one protocol. To rule them all if you will.
And the solution does exist. Sort of. It’s called Jabber.
Unlike the proprietary systems listed above, Jabber uses the recently rechristened eXtensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) which is an open standard, so anybody can utilise the system to communicate.
The actual mechanics of how XMPP works aren’t strictly relevant – or, frankly, interesting to your average Joe – suffice to say it allows users to send messages, transfer files, have “phone calls” etc.
In short, everything your other systems allow you to do – but with one username.
I wonder if the ‘wishful thinking’ of the 90s could come true one day? One user-name, one system, one click: hello.