By Robert Virkus, Director App Development at Open-Xchange
In Madrid, at the Open-Xchange summit, on the 17th October 2019, CEO Rafael Laguna and COI Product Manager Robert Virkus stood on stage and demonstrated the first-ever COI based app. The OX COI Messenger app was then simultaneously made available to the world as a Beta. You can see a bootleg video of this and download the beta app on https://coi.me.
What is COI?
For those of you that do not know what COI (Chat Over IMAP) is, it is a new open chat standard, championed by Open-Xchange, which is set to change the face of chat and email in the future.
Now that is a very bold statement, but let’s try and understand why it is a real statement. To understand why COI is so different you have to first understand the problem with chat today.
Problems with Chat Today
The first problem is every chat application is based on the same fundamental structure: someone sits down and builds a chat app that can talk to another instance of the same chat app. There is no interoperability between chat app vendors. For example, if you have WhatsApp you cannot send a message to Skype. This leads to so many inconveniences and it is amazing that we accept the situation at all. For the users of these apps, it is a pain. For example, if you want to communicate with a person, you first have to make sure that you are both using the same app. The problem is if you have more than one friend you usually end up having to have numerous messaging apps and your friends then get split into separate messaging silos.
For developers wishing to create a new chat app, this ‘siloing’ is a huge problem. It is almost impossible to get adoption. This is because until you have lots of people using your app, no one will download it and use it. For this reason, many developers stay away from building new, and possibly better, chat apps, because they know they will fail. The result is the world of chat is restricted to only a few companies, and innovation in chat is stifled.
The second problem is that chat is a relatively new form of communication when compared to something like email. It is a form of communication not everyone is happy using. This is especially true with older or more traditional or less technically capable demographics. On the other hand, many millennials dislike using email because they consider it as too cumbersome, and less instantaneous. This leads to another form of self-perpetuating siloing between demographics.
The third problem is the concentration of power in the hands of very few. The world’s top four mobile messaging apps are controlled by two companies: Facebook and TenCent. Both of these companies have proven that privacy and user’s freedom is not one of their top priorities. Third parties do have limited integration options, but these are also controlled and changed regularly. Any third party that integrates into one of these mobile chat networks soon finds out that they are not in control of their own business.
In summary, the problems caused by today’s form of chat are the grouping and separation of people into silos, and the increased number of apps people need to communicate effectively.
Now enter COI!
COI is a standard that lets developers build chat apps that sit on top of any existing email account. It then uses that email account as a conduit to communicate through. The app itself, more or less, only acts as an interface between the user and the email account. The app does not need to deal with user identification, this is the email address; the app does not need to think about the transfer of the message, that is handled by the email system; the app does not need to think about storage of the messages, that is done in your inbox.
Additionally, COI is specified in a way that allows existing email users to view, and answer, chat messages as well. This backward compatibility opens up the whole email community to any COI app: a whopping 7 billion active accounts.
How does this Change the World?
Because COI uses existing email infrastructures anyone using any COI based app can communicate with anyone who has an email address. If the recipient does not have a COI based app then they receive the message as a normal email. If the recipient does have a COI based app then they get the message in a chat-like format, and all then benefits that come with that (e.g. stripped out message, one-click reply, delivery information, simple sending of photos, videos, audio clips, etc.).
The removal of the communication walls means that any developer can now create a chat app that can communicate with any other COI app. This increases competition and speeds up innovation.
The removal of the Chat/Email wall means that chat apps can communicate with email accounts. An OX COI Messenger user can write to a person only using email. That person will receive the message as an email. They can then reply as usual and the original sender will receive the reply as a chat. This removes the separation of demographics.
The world can now communicate together, transparently and without the need for many different apps.
Remember that this is not fantasy, it is not a vision, it is not a hope, but it is reality. In Madrid, in October, this was actually demonstrated, and then the first COI app (OX COI Messenger) was made available to the world, as a beta.
Now that the first Beta App is out, and available, the journey can start in earnest. It will take time for users to ‘get it’ and to get used to a world without walls and restrictions. It will take time for new apps to be developed. Open-Xchange is leading with the first app, it will introduce COI to its other products and run events to help COI adoption, but COI is the future.
To learn more about Open-Xchange and COI please visit our COI product page.