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Google's unified messaging app Babble: The downside

Google has a failure to communicate.

It's got a jumble of communications services—Talk, Voice, Messenger, Hangout, Drive Chat—that don't talk to each other. However, that may be about to change.

Reports percolating on the Internet say Google is planning to unify its communications offerings into a single app called "Babble" or "Babel."

Support for the app, which is reportedly being tested now by Google employees, will be baked into the next version of Android, 5.0 Key Lime Pie, and may be rolled out in May at the company's I/O conference for developers.

The unified UI would give users of Google's communication services a seamless experience on Android and iOS devices, as well as through Chrome, Google+, and Gmail.

Not only is the user interface cleaner, but it will allow conversations to be viewed across Google services, contain improved picture sharing, offer better transmission of notifications across devices, and support file sharing.

The new offering is expected to raise the bar for Google competitors iMessage, Blackberry Messenger, and FaceBook.

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A purported screenshot of Google's unified messaging UI recently appeared online.

Here's the catch

While unifying Google's array of confusing communication services may be a good short-term idea for users, the company's long-term agenda may not be as beneficial.

Google's communications services are built on a protocol called XMPP, also known as Jabber. Recently, Google, following a distasteful trend by online service providers of walling off their users from other services, began blocking Jabber traffic from non-Google servers.

"This change is akin to Google no longer accepting incoming e-mail for @gmail.com addresses from non-Google domains," maintains the Free Software Foundation.

Google appears to be blocking the traffic to address a spam problem originating with some Jabber servers. That solution is an extreme one, according to the foundation.

"We sympathize; we spend a disappointing amount of energy combating similar problems on the services we provide for the free software community," the organization wrote at its website. "But the solution can't be something that breaks legitimate communication channels, and especially not in a way that enhances Google's disproportionate control of the network."

Google may have a good reason for its recent XMPP blocking move, but it should raise questions for anyone thinking of trusting all their communications to the company, especially when you take into account its past history of blowing off services—like Google Reader and Microsoft ActiveSync support—with little regard to the needs of the people using those services.

It remains to be seen if Google will settle on Babel or Babble for the name of its unified messaging product. The term Babel—as in tower of Babel—has been used in everything from movies to an Android app to The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, but it would be appropriate. After all, the app would take Google's babel of VoIP, instant messaging, and video call services and create a single service out of them.

However, whatever the new app is called, users should carefully consider the ramifications of pushing all their communication chips into Google's pot before doing so.

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