Instant messaging (IM) companies are taking baby steps toward setting open standards that would allow competing products to work together, but the prospects for a quick agreement are dim.
In the meantime, Odigo is moving ahead on its own. The Yahoo announcement comes as the company continues to play a game of cat-and-mouse with America Online, which has repeatedly blocked Odigo's attempts to connect to its AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and ICQ services.
AOL last week said it supports open standards among competing IM products, but the company still insists that unauthorized attempts to connect to its services threaten customer security and privacy.
As with AIM, Odigo's decision to communicate with Yahoo Messenger was not officially sanctioned. Odigo informed Yahoo that it would begin letting its members access their Yahoo Messenger buddy lists through its service.
"(Odigo) gave us a heads up," said Brian Park, senior producer at Yahoo. "We would hope to work with them and a lot of other companies out there to establish more formal relationships."
Instant messaging allows people to communicate with other buddies using the same system by sending real-time text messages. But Odigo embeds features in its software that let existing members of certain instant messaging services tap their various buddy lists. For example, its software has add-ons that let Yahoo Messenger, AIM and ICQ users enter their passwords through the Odigo service to chat with buddies who use the rival services.
The link between Odigo and Yahoo comes as companies begin taking sides in the instant messaging war. Earlier this week, Web portal AltaVista and Microsoft opened channels for communication between their instant messaging products--the first high-profile alliance between competing services.
But it's AOL that dominates the market with AIM's 91 million screen names in its network, according to the company's latest earnings report. It closest competitor is ICQ, also owned by AOL, which has 62 million registered members.
Rivals have been knocking on AOL's doors to gain access to its instant messaging networks. In the past year, Microsoft, Prodigy and CMGI's Tribal Voice have attempted to let their customers communicate with their AIM buddies. But AOL blocked these efforts because of alleged security and privacy risks.
Many companies also have criticized AOL for remaining mum about pursuing a standards protocol for instant messaging.
AOL has taken a step toward establishing open standards. The company recently submitted a proposal to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), an industry standards body, to outline how instant messaging services can communicate. Critics say the proposal falls short of establishing a universal code to allow services to work together, however.
Meanwhile, Yahoo is talking to various instant messaging companies, including Microsoft and Tribal Voice, about the possibility of forming a coalition of interoperable services. While the company plans to support long-term standards, if outlined by the IETF, Yahoo is anxious to find a short-term solution, which could mean creating its own protocol for others to use.