Despite the increasing use of web conferencing, instant messaging, and social media tools in the workplace, email shows no sign of disappearing. There are plenty of arguments for and against email, but it has one very big plus that most other systems don’t have; no matter which email system you’re using, you know it’s interoperable with everyone else’s email system.
Imagine if GMail users could only email other GMail users, or if you could only email other people inside your organisation. Of course, it would take away most of the benefits of using email. It works because everyone adopted the same set of standards, and although there may sometimes be inconsistencies with style and formatting, you know you can usually rely on the message being delivered.
The same can’t be said for web conferencing and telepresence platforms, and it’s easy to understand why the platform vendors like to keep things closed; they usually work on a per seat licence basis that wouldn’t stand up to a more open model. It’s hard to imagine email (or the telephone, mobile phones or text messaging) becoming as commonplace as they have, if the user was tied to a particular vendor, software, hardware or network.
I’d like to see this same open approach to standards applied to web conferencing, because I’m sure that it would increase overall adoption. It seems to me that the budget decision to invest in this kind of platform must be easier to justify if you can demonstrate more opportunities to use it.
Things may be heading in the right direction. When Cisco aquired Tandberg, they announced that they would be adopting their own Telepresence Interoperability Protocol (TIP) and that they would open source it, a commitment that they recently delivered on. It allows interoperability between Cisco and Tandberg telepresence systems, as well as any third party system that supports it. At the moment that’s limited to Cisco’s own Webex Meeting Centre, and Microsoft Office Communicator, but let’s hope that other vendors adopt the same standard, rather than introducing their own.