Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Breach of Public Trust: Proprietary Google+ Hangouts

by Dietrich Schmitz

By all accounts, Google I/O 2013 was a relative success, but with one exception: Google+ Hangouts.

The battle cry for action was sounded on the announcement that Google will dismantle the much-praised Google Talk which runs on an open protocol Jabber/XMPP in favor of proprietary protocols all running under the branded label Hangouts.

Even I was taken by surprise by the announcement, merely thinking that Google was being ambitious in their redesign of Google+ which  coincided with the opening of this year's Google I/O extravaganza convention.

As it turns out, XMPP will stay around for a while but will eventually sunset in favor of Hangout.

So, what does this mean for Google?  And what does it mean for you the reader who rightly cherishes choice and open standards such as XMPP?  This decision represents a total close-down with no Federated messaging protocol support.  That means you can't use other messaging tools to get plugged into their proprietary Hangout protocol for any form of communication whatsoever.

Will our collective voices be heard?

I am afraid that this turn of events is more dubious than it appears on the outside.  There was no discussion prior to the announcement by Google in an attempt to share their vision with the general public.

Should they have shared information with the public to obtain consensus before reaching such a decision?  I submit the answer to that question is an emphatic yes.

We all, myself included, try really hard to support Google in their initiatives whatever they may be.  But this time around, I am having a difficult time reconciling what has happened.

It's a wholesale shutdown of an open protocol in favor of an as of yet fully disclosed proprietary protocol, which, I am afraid is woven with H.264 to obtain maximal bandwidth advantage.  I mean, the 'X' in XMPP means 'extensible', right?  So, why not improve upon XMPP and fill in those technology gaps?  Instead, choosing a proprietary solution is a step backward and clear violation of the public trust that users have placed in Google.  That trust is now broken whether they realize it or not.

I don't like being forced to make choices but in this situation, I am afraid I need to decide where I stand on support of their decision.

The only vote I have is to decide whether I use Google+ at all.  I have control over that.  Even using Google Blogger, I now find myself feeling quite conflicted.

If Google isn't careful, they will find themselves in a landslide shift as users move away from Google+, worse, away from supporting Google entirely.  I really don't want to do that, but I am afraid this is the only choice I can make to vote my disfavor for their poor decision making.

The hardest part is losing contact with all my friends which I have made since G+ opened.

What to do (taps fingers...).  Live by one's principles?  Or, let them be compromised?  That is the choice each of us must consider here.  I must do something.  Soon.

-- Dietrich

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