Back in the old days of the Internet, before the prevalence of smartphones, there were a handful of instant messaging clients that people used. AIM, YIM, Gtalk, and ICQ are a few examples of the various systems that you may have had to log in to, to talk to your friends. Many of these systems had APIs which developers took advantage of to create multi-protocol clients. Tools like Trillian and Adium were a common solution for the multi-IM mess. I was a HUGE Adium user for a long time, and it seamlessly allowed me to chat with people on any number of systems in a beautiful single interface.
Things have changed though, and now, it’s near impossible to find a multi-protocol client that can handle all the providers out there. This is complicated by the fact that many tools are now mobile-only, with perhaps only a web app for desktop use. Into this, The Verge posted a great article today that highlighted that we already have a great multi-protocol client… our smartphone.
The basic gist of the article is that our phones already have all of the various chat apps on them, and through the use of nice notification centers, we can interact with our messages without caring about which protocol sent it. As long as you have accounts on the various chat systems, you can have notifications pushed to your phone and chat seamlessly with anyone.
It doesn’t solve the desktop problem though. Google has hinted that their Hangouts app is moving towards a more Slack like interface targeted towards businesses, and their Allo app is mobile only for the time being. Facebook Messenger has one of the best webapps for their service, but again, it’s a web page, and not a dedicated client. Other popular apps like WhatsApp and Signal are only recently coming up with clients for desktop use. This sends the message that many of these systems are mobile-first and will probably be that way going into the future.
As much as I love the always connected nature of my phone chat apps, I’m starting to look forward to the day when I can just hook up a keyboard and monitor, open a full-featured desktop, and have one device that serves all my needs. I know the day is coming, but for now it means that typing with our thumbs on our smartphones is probably one of the most common ways we’ll be dealing with the multi-protocol mess.