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Interact Software

Instant Messenger and Passport

Tuesday 25 January, 2005, 10:05 AM

As a self-confessed IM whore, it's a little distressing to log into IM and be told that none of my contacts are online. But a few days ago that's exactly what happened to me. This is odd - I have contacts from all over the globe, so I'd not seen this happen since I first signed up. (In fact I don't think I've seen fewer than 5 people online in living memory.)

I had a fairly good idea as to why this happened - I'd just changed my primary email contact details on my Passport account. (I've gradually been moving various bits of my IT infrastructure in-house, and wanted my Passport to reflect what is now my primary email address.)

Passport is quite happy to let you change your main email address. Although your email acts as your identifier at login time, it's not the thing that represents your identity within the system - there's a unique user identifier called a PUID (Passport User ID) for that. This means that if you change your email address, that shouldn't make any difference to the services you log into with Passport. For example, I'm still able to get into MSDN Subscriber Downloads using my Passport despite the change in email address.

What wasn't in the brochure is that Microsoft's Instant Messenger programs don't work like that. If you change your email address, you will instantly become invisible to everyone who was on your contact list. Although to be fair, there are hints that there will be trouble ahead - the Passport help recommends you back up your contacts list first...

Just to make matters worse, if you follow the recommended steps of exporting your contact list before changing email address and then reimporting it afterwards, it doesn't work. Messenger appears to use the PUID at some levels, because it still remembered all of my contacts, so when I attempted to import them all, it did nothing because they were all already in my contacts list. Which would have been fine, except as I said, they were all offline...

The reason they were all 'offline' is that you can only see when someone is online if they've chosen to let you see that. This is normally done by accepting the invitation that appears when someone has tried to add you to their contact list. But this part turns out to ignore PUIDs completely - it's based wholly on email address.

This seems nuts to me. Why on earth would messenger assume that I would want to stop talking to someone just because they changed their email address? The fact that they have the same PUID clearly indicates that they are the same individual - that's the whole point of having a PUID! There's an argument that most users aren't aware of the PUID, and that it's potentially confusing for a user to see someone in their contact list whose email address they don't recognize. But then it's equally confusing for your friends to stop appearing to be online... Surely the right thing to have done would be to bring up a notification indicating that someone you know seems to have changed their email address, and maybe even offer the option to stop hearing from them at this point.

It Gets Worse

So I dutifully nuked my entire contact list, and then reimported it. This caused it to send out new invitations to some of my contacts. But not all, it turns out...

I've yet to establish exactly who did and who didn't get an invite, but it looks suspiciously like it issued 64 invitations and then gave up...

So if you think I'm on your IM contact list, but you didn't recently get a new invitation from me on my current primary email address, then please let me know...

Even worse, two of the people I had to remove and re-add a second time because they didn't get invites have since found me disappear from their contact list!

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