Can we talk? The sorry state of modern messaging

Despite iMessages, Google Talk, texts, Facebook, Viber, Skype, and even email, it's harder to communicate than ever

Once upon a time, communicating with friends and colleagues over the Internet was quite simple. You added them to your AIM or ICQ account and started chatting. It seems that we've broken that simple method of communication.

The other day, I went to add a colleague to Messages in OS X. He hadn't used his AIM account in eons, so we went with Google Talk -- except that adding each other didn't work right at all. Even after accepting an arcane buddy request from him, I didn't see him in the list.

[ InfoWorld presents the Bossies 2013, the best open source software for data centers, clouds, mobile, and more. | For a quick, smart take on the news you'll be talking about, check out InfoWorld TechBrief -- subscribe today. ]

I then tried to add him from my contacts, and it added his iMessage account, which meant our chats annoyingly appeared on our phones too. Logging into Google Mail and using chat there seemed to work, but it didn't immediately link back to Messages for some reason, and the charade continued.

I've been doing this a long, long time, and I find it simply absurd that we spent the better part of 10 minutes trying to connect an instant messenger session. This is computing 101. Using text to transmit messages easily to another person should have been considered mature over 30 years ago.

Sure, if he still had the AIM account, it may have gone faster, or if we decided to use GTalk in the browser, or we downloaded a Flowdock app. The fact remains: This is becoming a bigger problem.

Let's say you chat with someone and want to look up part of that conversation later. Depending on the relationship you have with that person, those chats could potentially be anywhere. Was it on Facebook chat? AIM? Text messages? iMessage? WhatsApp? Viber? Skype? KakaoTalk? Even email? It's exhausting.

The sheer number of methods we can use to communicate person-to-person has grown substantially. Outside of a controlled corporate environment with internal chat services, there are seemingly endless ways we can conduct text-based conversations. Usually, more options are a good thing, but that's not true in this case.

Exactly how many apps must I have installed and potentially open on my desktop, phone, and tablet in order to communicate with people? Way too many. I think this was a problem that Apple was attempting to tackle with iMessage and the Messages app, but that only accounts for Google, Yahoo, and AOL chat services, along with the general Jabber protocol. While Messages will let you add Facebook chat and other Jabber-based services, most people don't know that, and they will never do it because it requires manual configuration of the client, including specific server and port information. Other services simply cannot be consolidated through Messages.

Further, this sort of consolidation leads to a situation where you might have the same person linked three or four different ways through the same IM client. If a friend has an AIM, Facebook, and GTalk account, it's only a matter of time until they appear three times in your buddy list. When this happens in Messages, you have to click on each entry to determine the source of that buddy, which is displayed in the text entry field on the right. It's madness.

The whole thing reminds me of the wall of pull bells in the servants' hall in "Downton Abbey."

The worst part: There's really no solving this one, aside from a truly consolidated client with provisions for managing the vagaries of each service or a central service that handles all communication of this type -- and we know the last one is a nonstarter. A consolidated client would also require the cooperation of each service vendor to some degree. As people flock to new messaging apps and services, such as WhatsApp and Viber, it necessarily forces those who were otherwise content with AIM or GTalk to download yet another application, create an account, and descend further into the madness.

If you want to chat with me, send a few smoke signals. At least there are only a few protocols to deal with there.

This story, "Can we talk? The sorry state of modern messaging," was originally published at Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.