Most of the attention to the recent Google/Yahoo partnership has focused on the two companies' search advertising plans, but the deal has implications for instant messaging, too. "In addition," reads the companies' press release, "Yahoo and Google agreed to enable interoperability between their respective instant messaging services, bringing easier and broader communication to users."
So far, exactly what that means is anyone's guess. But the IM market could certainly benefit from a little more interoperability. Despite the fact that IM use is on the rise among home users and businesses alike, each separate IM network remains a walled garden, independent of all the others. Getting them to work together -- similar to how e-mail works -- would benefit everyone.
There are a number of IM clients available that can connect to multiple networks at the same time, including Adium, Pidgin, and Trillian. But these clients still require you to have your own account on each network in order to talk to other people on that network. What would be better would be the ability to talk to anyone on any network from a single account.
For its part, Google has already demonstrated an interest in IM interoperability. Its own Google Talk IM network is built on an open, standards-based IM protocol called XMPP, which in theory allows communication between IM servers, although that feature hasn't been used so far. Connecting the Google Talk servers with Yahoo's own messaging servers would be a great first step.
Unfortunately, in light of all the other talk surrounding Google and Yahoo's partnership, few details have emerged to explain exactly what form the proposed IM interoperability might take. In other words, we'll have to wait and see. But any way you slice it, this is encouraging news for the increasingly commoditized IM market.