Maxime Seguineau helped found enterprise messaging firm Antepo in February 2000, just as reality was puncturing the hype-filled bubble of the dot-com craze. Back then, IM was mostly for teens and college students, who used free, online chat networks by AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo to keep in touch. Seguineau saw past the crazy colors of ICQ, the cartoonlike appeal of AIM, and the incomprehensible shorthand of IMers, to IM’s promise for the enterprise, which he dubbed “availability based communications,” now called “presence.”
Today, the demand for presence technology, if not for enterprise IM, is booming. That demand spurred Adobe’s purchase of Antepo in December 2006, with a vision of melding communications and presence features to its development and design apps. InfoWorld Senior Editor Paul F. Roberts talked with Seguineau about the role of IM and presence in the enterprise, the rise of Web 2.0, and the entrepreneur’s next act.
InfoWorld: When you talk about presence, what are you talking about?
Seguineau: Presence is the ability to know the intent and willingness of another person to engage in a particular communication session. It could be voice, real-time chat, or e-mail. It makes you more informed at any given point in time about how to engage with peers, whether friends or colleagues. It makes communications flows with them more adaptive and more optimal, because you’re aware of whether they’re available or not, and what degree of availability they have.
IW: With IM we’re aware of whether our buddies are online or away from their desk. You’re talking about taking that knowledge and porting it to other enterprise apps?
MS: That’s correct. Back in the Internet days, we used to say, “It’s not the content, but the context.” I think that’s even more true today. Especially with what’s going on now. The content is interactive. The same applies to the enterprise desktop. You might work on a document with a few folks and they’re not in the office, or you might want to collaborate with the people who wrote the prior version of that document in real time as you look at the document. That’s something that translates into time saved in the enterprise and dollars at the end of the year.
IW: Just speaking personally, I use Trillian to centralize ICQ, AOL, MSN, and Yahoo. I may have a Google Talk session on the side. But it’s messy. And this isn’t an enterprise solution, although I use it at work. It’s a consumer solution that my bosses let me use.
MS: I think you’re right. My understanding or view of market, which led to our alignment with Adobe, is at the end of day, the presence capability and real-time messaging have to be part of broader product offering. It would not surprise me if Microsoft stopped selling presence as a stand-alone component as seriously as it sold Exchange Server, but would just make part of Active Directory or Windows Server and not make you pay extra. I think you’re right that [presence] is all over the place, but it’s still a part of our lives. If you’re in a large organization, presence is slowly creeping onto the desktop.
IW: But does everyone agree on, say, XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol) as a standard?
MS: [Antepo] made a strategic move to support Microsoft’s SIP, but in the long term, it’s unsustainable for Microsoft to keep a gated approach. They’re going to need to open it up, probably through gateways, just like we saw with SMTP gateways. And once that last wall falls, it’s irrelevant. Yeah, your department may use Adobe to communicate, but if you want to IM with someone in another company, you’ll be able to so seamlessly.
IW: So, as with e-mail, it all becomes about the feature set — Outlook vs. Thunderbird, or what have you?
MS: Yes, exactly.
IW: But we’re not there yet?
MS: No, we’re not. And I look at it like the Web. It took a lot more time than people planned to get to Web 2.0. We were talking about it 10 years ago, but we weren’t there.
IW: You are not going to join Adobe. What’s next for you personally?
MS: When you run a business for a few years, your view tends to get narrowed down on your business plan and your execution and your partners and sales, things like that. Then suddenly you get this huge picture and it’s like, “Wow, a lot of things have changed that I haven’t been paying attention to.” So there’s a lot going on and I’m trying to figure out what it means for me and for the market.