imo.im started in 2005 as a web-based application for accessing multiple chat platforms. While desktop-based apps were the norm during that time, imo enabled users to chat using multiple profiles under one central interface. The fact that it was web based, enabled those on OSes like Linux, for example, to still chat, even as most messenger services only had software for Windows and Mac. An added benefit of the service is that it can save chat histories for the user, which can come in handy for future reference.
imo has since branched out to mobile, supporting multiple chat networks, quite similar to the original web-based app. imo has supported Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger, Facebook Messenger, Jabber, and a host of other networks. At one point, the network even supported Skype chats, although this service was unceremoniously pulled out by Skype sometime after it was acquired by Microsoft.
In its most recent iterations, the chat platform gave some focus on its ‘Broadcasts’ feature, which provided a geo-targeted Twitter-like feed where users can chat publicly with other imo users within the vicinity. In 2014, imo also launched its video calling service, enabling web-to-web, web-to-mobile and mobile-to-mobile video calling. One highlight of the service is that it uses webRTC, which removes the need for a user to install browser plugins or extensions to run video chat.
Cutting off the cord
On March 1, imo announced that it was cutting off support for third party chat networks starting March 3, citing the need to focus on its core service. “To provide the best and most reliable service to our users, we need to focus on areas we feel we can make the biggest impact,” said Ralph Harik, Co-founder and CEO, imo. “We are now going to concentrate on building out our own communications platform to help people easily connect in their everyday lives.”
In an interview with e27, Harik explained how it is becoming increasingly challenging to deal with a multiple-network approach, and how the company can further improve its services through a more focused approach.
“We want to provide the best experience to our users,” he said, clarifying that it was “difficult to do this if we don’t have control over other networks.” Harik cites some challenges, such as having to deal with differing privacy settings across networks, as well as working with chat platforms with no documented APIs.
“There are a lot of complications, and we are actually willing to deal with these complications,” Harik shared. “However, we want to provide the best service to users.” Having to deal with third parties takes too much effort and time, Harik says. “The best way to do this is by focusing on our own efforts.”
Harik clarified that this move was not a reaction to the recent news of imo’s contemporaries being acquired, such as Viber (by Rakuten) and WhatsApp (by Facebook). “We have been building our network for some time now, and this [cutting support for third party networks] is a decision that is not done hastily,” he shared.
“Our goal is to be ubiquitous on as many platforms possible,” Harik said. This is one reason why the company is focusing its efforts on further developing the web app, as well as the native Android and iOS apps. Support for webRTC means cross-platform compatibility without the need for additional plugins or extensions (which Google’s Hangouts will require, for example).
For users affected with the shift in strategy, imo is allowing export of chat histories until March 7. According to the company, it enjoys “10 million plus” downloads on mobile platforms, with 1.5 million monthly active users on both mobile and web-based apps. imo is a free download on Google Play and the iTunes App Store.