Sometimes, when evaluating a Free and Open Source project, we get all caught up in the technical details, and forget about what really drives consumers to any product- support. Nothing is more important to a user, than being able to turn to someone if they have questions, and get the support they need. It could be the best product in the world, but if there is no one to turn to when the times get rough, chances are, that they won’t be using or consuming the product much longer. Of course, there are other factors, but my point, and argument, is that support is the Big Daddy.
So, with that said, who do you turn to when the MSN servers go down? What if you are having login problems or can’t get your roster to pull up? What happens when your instant messaging account is getting bombarded with spam? Question after question, users are faced with this often. And who do they turn to? Does MSN have a support channel that you can turn to if you’re having troubles? Does AIM? ICQ? Yahoo!? XMPP does, and it rocks!
First off, before I continue, I realize that this is not a unique aspect about XMPP or Jabber. Many Free and Open Source Software solutions have active and willing-to-help communities. Even proprietary solutions have support channels. However, I find it ironic that Jabber seems to be the only IM service with a decent support backbone. Specifically, http://www.jabber.org. The rest of the IM services lack this considerably, and as such, are losing members.
So, let’s look at these support solutions. Let’s take my example that I had today. I requested SSL certificates from www.xmpp.net to install on my Jabber server. I requested them a few days ago. During the process, I received the SSL key and the SSL certificate request, but not the certificate itself. I was told during the process, that it would take up to 6 hours to receive the cert. Well, 3 days later, I’m wondering what happened. I turned looking for support.
I had a few options available to me, which readily apparend, and easy to execute. I could add Peter Saint-Andre to my Jabber roster, leader of the XMPP Federation, and ask him directly, send him an email, or join a MUC (multi-user chat) on jabber.org, and see if they had any ideas. Well, I chose to add St. Peter to my roster, and ask him directly. He was more than willing to find out what had happened to my certificate, and get the matter taken care of straight away. The support was incredible! I received my certificate, installed it to my server, and am now one satisfied consumer.
Sure. There are toll-free numbers to call, trying to get an issue resolved. They are famous and litter the phone lines. But who wants to talk to a robot or push buttons all day? I certainly have better things to do with my time then waste it talking to outsourced help, only to regurgitate everything again to an actual representative 10 minutes later. Online support, especially IRC or MUC is far superior to toll-free numbers and automated messages. Just ask anyone in #xmlounge on irc.xmission.com how effective online support is.
Now, is this the case for every Jabber provider- say GMail? Not necessarily. I’m not that ignorant. However, is this NOT the case for every legacy/proprietary provider? It is, and that’s my point. Community is much more powerful than any mega-corporation out there. Always has. Always will be. And it should be priority #1 for any user to turn to a provider that has *great* support options. Again, jabber.org is one supch provider. There are many others.