By Grant Gross
Jabber ain't your father's instant messenger. When Andre Durand, general manager of Jabber.com, predicts the XML-based instant messaging product will be "about as big as email, if not bigger," he's not alone in his assessment.
Linux Journal senior editor Doc Searls, writing in the September issue about Jabber and its potential to be used with Linux embedded in all kinds of devices: "Maybe we're wrong, but we think this is where the Next Big Bang is going to happen. The last time we felt this way ... the spot we watched was Linux. That was in 1994, when both Linux and Linux Journal were pre-1.0. If we're right, this is even bigger."
Jabber -- both an Open Source project at a dot-org and the dot-com company working on selling the product -- is an instant message (IM) application, but backers say it's much more than a bunch of lonely people trading inflated vital stats on a proprietary Internet service.
"Jabber is really a platform that allows us to commercialize instant messaging the way email has been commercialized in the past decade," Durand says. "At the heart of it, Jabber becomes infrastructure for real-time messaging."
Consider the possibilities of a non-proprietary, real-time messaging system. Do you want your Web site to provide real-time customer support? That's the example Durand tosses out. With its XML base, Jabber allows people to talk to machines, or machines to machines, exchanging information in all kinds of formats.
Jeremie Miller, the original Jabber programmer, uses Microsoft's .net "storage is in the clouds" analogy to explain Jabber in an article posted in the Jabber.org news section: "We're building a new Web, one where content is structured in a way that software can understand, then this diverse structured content is managed by intelligent software in an accessible cloud, and then this cloud is accessed by software capable of customizing the content to the environment at hand."
Open3 Technologies, which sponsors the Open3.org community developing a native-XML enterprise integration platform, has created a Jabber adapter that adds instant messaging. "Instant Messaging enhances customer relationships and allows us to provide instant feedback and process monitoring to a user," says Aleksander P. Lesniak, Open3 Technologies chief operating officer.
For example, Open3 and Jabber could allow real-time alerts for stock market traders. A trader could ask for an instant message if a certain stock price rises above $60 a share. Or a manager tasked with quality assurance for an e-tailer could track how the length of time between an order and shipping, with real-time alerts.
Sometimes, you just need a pop-up alert about something immediately. That's the IM advantage over email, Lesniak says. The possibilities are virtually limitless, he adds. "What you can do with it pretty much depends on the breadth of your imagination. "
Miller's Open Source project has existed since early 1998, while the Denver-based Webb Interactive Services launched Jabber.com in March. Webb Interactive was interested in using the Jabber platform to provide a customer-to-business IM service for one of its product lines, and in early 1999 Webb became the first commercial sponsor of Jabber.org by hiring Miller and dedicating his time to the Open Source project.
Since 1998, the project's contributors have grown to nearly 50 developers, and Jabber has spawned about a dozen other projects, including projects with the names of Jabberwocky, Jabbernaut, and Gabber. [Just search for "Jabber" at Sourceforge.] On the commercial side, Jabber.com is marketing the product as a private-labeled instant messenger right now, but it plans to offer the first version of a wider distributed client by the end of the year.