Update: today I’ve been receiving XMPP messages in the Google+ variant of Hangouts. Looks as if it currently is back (at least while you are logged in via XMPP - havn’t tried without pidgin at the same time yet). Let’s just hope that XMPP federation will continue to be supported on the long run.

It’s been all over the internet, so you probably heard it already: Google Hangouts no longer receives messages from XMPP users. Before, you could easily chat with “federated” users from other Jabber servers.

While of course the various open-source people are not amused – for me, most of my contacts disappeared, so I then uninstalled Hangouts to get back Google Talk (apparently this works if Talk was preinstalled in your phones firmware) – this bears some larger risks for Google:

  • Reputation: Google used to have the reputation of being open. XMPP support was open, the current “Hangups” protocol is not. This continuing trend of abandoning open standards and moving to “walled garden” solutions will likely harm the companies reputation in the open source community
  • Legal risk of an antitrust action: Before, other competitors could interface with Google using an indepentend and widely accepted standard. An example is United Internet in Germany, which operates for example the Web.de and GMX platforms, mail.com, the 1&1 internet provider. By effectively locking out its competitors - without an obvious technical reason, as XMPP was working fine just before, and apparently continues to be used at Google for example in AppEngine - bears a high risk of running into an antitrust action in Europe. If I were 1&1, I would try to get my lawyers started… or if I were Microsoft, who apparently just wanted to add XMPP messaging to Hotmail?
  • Users: Google+ is not that big yet. Especially in Germany. Since 90% of my contacts were XMPP contacts, where am I likely going to move to: Hangouts or another XMPP server? Or back to Skype? I still use Skype for more Voice calls than Google (which I used like twice), because there are some people that prefer Skype. One of these calls probably was not using the Google plugin, but an open source phone. Because with XMPP and Jingle, my regular chat client would interoperate. An in fact, the reason I started using Google Talk the first place was because it would interoperate with other networks, too, and I assumed they would be good at operating a Jabber server.

In my opinion, Google needs to quickly restore a functioning XMPP bridge. It is okay if they offer add-on functionality only for Hangout users (XMPP was always designed to allow for add-on functionality); it is also okay if they propose an entirely new open protocol to migrate to on the long run, if they can show good reasons such as scalability issues. But the way they approached the Hangup rollout looks like a big #fail to me.

Oh, and there are other issues, too. For example Linus Torvalds complains about the fonts being screwed up (not hinted properly) in the new Google+, others complain about broken presence indicators (but then you might as well just send an email, if you can’t tell whether the recepient will be able to receive and answer right away), but using Hangouts will apparently also (for now – rumor has it that Voice will also be replaced by Hangups entirely) lose you Google Voice support. The only thing that seems to give positive press are the easter eggs…

All in all, I’m not surprised to see over 20% of users giving the lowest rating in the Google Play Store, and less than 45% giving the highest rating

  • for a Google product, this must be really low.