Reuters links IM with Lotus

The companies plan to break down the walls between their corporate instant messaging products, the latest sign of unity for the fragmented industry.

Jim Hu Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Jim Hu
covers home broadband services and the Net's portal giants.
Jim Hu
3 min read
Reuters and IBM's Lotus division plan to break down the walls between their corporate instant messaging products, the latest sign of unity for the fragmented industry.

An agreement is expected to be announced Wednesday that will allow Reuters Messaging subscribers to connect seamlessly with IBM's Lotus Sametime IM community, a Reuters representative told CNET News.com.

The deal comes on the heels of a similar agreement between Reuters and America Online's popular AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and ICQ products.

"We are going to prove that connectivity can work," David Gurle, Reuters executive vice president and global head of collaboration, said in an interview. "We're connecting two highways, and engineers from both sides can understand the specifications of the highways. We're going to be able to provide that solution and prove that it works."

Financial terms were not disclosed. Sametime will be available on Reuters Messenger in early 2004.

Reuters, a global news provider, offers the IM service free to its customers in the financial sector. In March, the company said it had 250,000 subscribers at about 1,000 companies.

Instant messaging has become a popular means for Internet users to communicate. AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo offer their software free and have amassed millions of users who generate high volumes of data traffic. The companies have also built additional features into their software that enable file transfers, PC-to-phone calling and, with the exception of AOL, video conferencing.

However, IM providers remain closed networks, barring communication between their respective services and shutting out attempts by other services to tap their network of users. This has helped the three leading companies to flourish in concert, because many people run multiple IM versions at the same time.

While the ability to chat with AIM and Sametime users will exist through the Reuters Messenger client, the agreement does not portend any imminent action to open consumer applications. But deals with AOL and IBM may not be the last for Reuters.

Reuters is currently in discussions with MSN and Yahoo to strike similar deals, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

Yahoo and MSN declined to comment.

The ins and outs of interoperability
Executives from all services agree that interoperability between IM clients will happen, but it could take time, because there is no business incentive to speed the process. That's because interoperability would strip away their only differentiating factor: their user networks.

In corporations, the drive to interoperability is more realistic. IM has become an alternative means of communication that emerged among employees and outside the control of most corporate IT departments. However, fears of sensitive information being exchanged over public networks has caused many companies to ban IM from the workplace. In response, AOL, MSN and Yahoo this year released corporate versions of their clients that include security and compliance features, although it's not clear that there has been much demand for the products.

Some analysts think that corporations that have secure IM software in their networks will eventually want to connect with other networks. This may force existing IM providers to strike connectivity deals with their competitors.

"Particularly in the enterprise space, the more interoperability that people can provide, the greater their chances for success will be," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Research. "It's good to IM within an organization, but the ability to message with others beyond that will be more valuable."

Many technology companies are dipping their toe into corporate IM waters, including AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo, Sun Microsystems and IBM.

Reuters will connect with Sametime's community via gateways that use the same protocol to communicate. Both services use Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), which allows real-time communications between two servers. The services will enable people to communicate while maintaining their respective screen names and passwords.

Reuters' deal with AOL was not a server-to-server arrangement. Instead, Reuters must configure its service to communicate with AOL's IM users.