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Google kills off Hangouts and Allo in a cull to its messaging apps

Well, this is rotten.

As the article suggests, the loss of Hangouts and Allo was pretty inevitable, given the large overlap in functionality between them and various Google apps (notably their Messages app), and that Google has a long history of dropping popular (usually 'free') tools on which people rely. But Google is only notable because it is so big. It has become an all-too-common feature of working in a centralized, cloud-based ecosystem that those of us who rely on tools created by the big few are completely at their mercy when they decide to make changes, or when they simply go under. The same is true whether we pay for it or not: Athabasca University's use of O365, for instance, forces us to accept whatever 'upgrades' Microsoft choose to inflict on us (including loss of services, features, and functionality) despite the large amount of money it costs us to use it. But a very similar problem affects totally open and cool systems like the much missed Firefox Hello, that was ignominiously killed off a couple of years ago.

If everyone were using open standards, as I believe they should, then this would not be a really serious problem - we'd just switch to a different provider, using the same protocols, maybe with different apps and, perhaps, using different hosts. But, for most of us, that's not how things work any more. Gone (I hope temporarily) are the days when the community established standards, and people wrote apps that used them. The Web couldn't happen again today, nor email, nor SFTP, nor telnet, nor any number of critical protocols on which we all rely, whether we know it or not. It's not that there is no need - the fact that people rely on things like Hangouts or Skype demonstrates a big demand, and it's actually quite bizarre that a perfectly acceptable protocol (XMPP) is actively ignored for such things. It's like the bad old days before TCP/IP glued everything together all over again, only worse, because the Internet has become a critical service, and it affects so many more people than before. Maybe the odd API has been standardized (WebRTC, for instance) but that's not the same thing as a real protocol, and nothing like as universally useful.

Trouble is, if centralized organizations (mainly commercial companies) lock us into changes in ways we don't like, or the service vanishes, or terms and conditions change to something unacceptable, we are royally screwed. This is the fundamental problem with the cloud, and why we should be very wary of using it. It's not bad in principle - you can use the cloud to follow open standards if you shop around or rely on your own management skills - but it's really bad when open standards are flagrantly ignored.


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