AOL Taking Another Shot at Building Out IM Platform

AOL is opening up more of its core IM technology in an effort to establish it as a mash-upable platform. The Open AIM developer forum has the details, and TechCrunch offers its very positive early take. Here's a couple of additional points, derived from my conversation with AOL.

- This is not the strategy to integrate the other big two IM players, Yahoo and Microsoft. There's still some talking about working together to integrate those products into a "multi-headed" network, but that's deep talking, not SDKs and APIs.

- On the other hand, AOL feels this strategy could accomodate just about anybody else, including Google, any social networks who might be trying to do their own IM, and all of the other multi-headed products (think Trillian). And contrary to what some are saying, while this is a lot better than suing and shutting people down, it's a pretty heavy embrace if you join the party.

- The embrace, though, has its positive elements. I've criticized Facebook for its widget platform strategy of "you can monetize it any way you want" (because Facebook sure isn't going to help you do so). But this is no AdSense, either. To build on services like AIM's presence management and buddy list, would-be partners have to agree to take along two of the following five options AOL calls value-added features: the buddy list ad banner, the AIM toolbar (promotion, not integration), AIM expressions (ie buddy icons), the buddy info page, or the AIM dashboard. All of these generate potential ad revenues for AOL, but AOL will share revenues only if you take the banner ad. Otherwise, access to the APIs, SDKs, and the services themselves are free. Not a bad trade.

- Other than the extra revenue, and potentially preventing some would-be competitors, it's a little unclear what AOL's objectives are if the platform actually creates an ecosystem of partner companies. Either that, or they're playing pretty close to the vest.

It's definitely a good sign of the old dog learning new tricks. AOL's opening up in a pretty Web 2.0 way one of the original social platforms, and is ahead of Microsoft and Yahoo on this front. (Gtalk's quite open, but doesn't have much of a user base.) Now let's see if any interesting apps or hybrid services emerge.