Law in the Internet Society

MAKING THE SECURE SWITCH: Steps Recommended to Convince Google Talk Users to Switch to FreedomBox's Secure Messaging Platform [REWRITE]

-- By DavidKorvin - 31 Mar 2013


FreedomBox, which has the goal of “building software for smart devices whose engineered purpose is to work together to facilitate free communication among people, safely and securely, beyond the ambition of the strongest power to penetrate,” has a complete, secure Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) messaging platform in its 1.0 version. Google Talk, which is an instant messaging service that almost all of my friends use, is also built on this sophisticated messaging protocol. While FreedomBox’s messaging platform is secure, Google Talk is a centralized version where privacy intrusions occur.

However, though FreedomBox’s messaging platform will have many application for its XMPP chat—including Pidgin, which is a multiprotocol chat client that can connect instant messaging friends all at once with conversational security—FreedomBox still faces challenges in eliminating Google Talk’s dominance of online instant messaging.

Nonetheless, the demise of AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), which saw its 52% instant messaging market share in 2006 fall to less than 1% in 2011 highlights how FreedomBox and its supporters can cause a similar downfall for Google Talk in the near future.

How Google Talk Came to Dominate Instant Messaging Among My Peers

I remember when I began college in 2006, everyone was using AIM; two years later, everyone I knew had switched to Google Talk and AIM was a complete afterthought. Looking back on it, I believe there was a mad rush from AIM to Google Talk for three main reasons. First, Google Talk’s messaging protocol, XMPP, was more sophisticated and had more applications than AIM’s Open System for CommunicAtion in Realtime (OSCAR) protocol. (AOL tried to implement XMPP support for AIM in 2008, but the service lasted less than three months.) Second, Google Talk was integrated in Gmail, while I did not really know many people that used AOL Mail as their main e-mail address. Lastly, using Google Talk became the “cool” thing to do.

Suggestions for FreedomBox Movement

Looking at the three factors Google Talk used to overtake AIM’s instant messaging market share dominance helps crystallize measures FreedomBox should take in expanding the user base of its messaging platform. The easiest part of the three prongs discusses above for FreedomBox to meet is the first one because FreedomBox’s messaging platform, like Google Talk, uses XMPP; additionally, later this year FreedomBox’s platform will have a secure, effective system of text, voice, and video chat compatible with Google Talk that will already be architecturally built-in to any FreedomBox computer. Thus, because FreedomBox already has the necessary technological infrastructure in place with respect to its messaging platform, it has already completed this first task.

The other two elements are where FreedomBox currently faces larger challenges. When Google Talk came out, it was easy for many people I know to switch from AIM to Google Talk because they were already receiving their e-mail through Gmail. Thus, people liked Google Talk because they essentially got two-for-one shopping when logging into Gmail: you could check your e-mail and instant message from the same website. I believe that for FreedomBox’s messaging platform to become widely used, its users must be able to easily perform other online tasks at the same time. I know that FreedomBox already has dozens of free and open-source software (FOSS) applications for its XMPP chat, but I would recommend to its innovators that they do everything possible to integrate their messaging protocol as seemlessly as possible into its e-mail platform. The more FreedomBox is able to mimic the Google Talk-Gmail relationship, the more successful it will become in expanding its reach.

Lastly, people switched from AIM to Google Talk because it was the “cool” thing to do. Of the three elements discussed above, this is by far the most difficult to quantify, but its impact was very real at the time. When Gmail first started, you could not just go on a website to sign up for the product; you had to be invited by someone else. This initial exclusivity made you feel cool when someone sent you an invitation to sign up.

On the other hand, one of FreedomBox’s main principles is that it is available to anyone that wishes to be part of its movements, which means that a “cool” campaign founded on exclusivity makes absolutely no sense. Thus, FreedomBox must take another angle in convincing everyday Google Talk users to stop using Google Talk: show that maintaining and protecting online privacy is the “cool” thing to do. On this note, I recommend a two-fold strategy for FreedomBox to embrace: (1) keep showing the harms that occur when online privacy is violated, and (2) keep highlighting examples where secure messaging platforms have helped to directly lead to important social movements. To get users to switch from Google Talk to something more secure, I believe FreedomBox’s best strategy is to not only show how harmful Google Talk can be, but also demonstrate that instant messaging can be a cause for good if it focuses on the right ideals.


FreedomBox currently has an XMPP messaging platform that is as sophisticated as the platform of Google Talk, but unlike Google Talk, it is a secure means to instant message with friends. As FreedomBox has completed the technological legwork required to be a desirable alternative to Google Talk, FreedomBox must now turn its attention to other reasons for Google Talk’s dominance in order to stop it from doing any more damage. I believe the suggestions that I have made above—in time—will help to convince my peers to leave Google Talk.

At the moment, everyone I know currently uses Google Talk, but AIM’s implosion shows that this does not always have to be the case. FreedomBox already has the XMPP messaging platform in place, all it has to do now is convince users that the switch is worth making.


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r14 - 23 Aug 2014 - 19:33:50 - EbenMoglen
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