AOL Opens IM (A Bit) To Developers

Starting Monday, developers can go to this site for details on how they can tie their applications into AOL's new IM infrastructure.

"This is a big day for us ….we've been working toward it a long time—since 1996 when AIM and ICQ started we've been moving from a more closed to a more open environment," said Jamie Odell, the head of AIM products for Dulles, Va.-based AOL.

AOL is not making source code available but is providing a full SDK with APIs and documentation. With these tools a developer could build plug-ins, custom clients or "mash ups" of popular applications that work with AOL's new "Triton" client, AOL said.

"You could create a gallery of plug-ins, maybe an app that lets you check your Fedex delivery times," he noted.

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"Over the past few years, we've interconnected AIM with ICQ and iChat and other enterprise federation partners, and at the same time we're taking the AIM code base and building a platform around it. We're now giving away to third parties the same tools we're using to build our next-generation product," added Justin Uberti, lead developer and chief evangelist for the program.

With the tools, developers can devise plug-ins to the Triton client---"perfect for developers who have ideas for functionalities that we haven't included already," Odell said.

Or they could build their own clients that take advantage of presence, text messaging, buddy list, voice, video, file sharing and other functions exposed by Triton itself.

AOL, which pioneered instant messaging, now claims 63 million users. But the bulk of these are on free, older versions. Triton, which makes instant messaging, e-mail, text messaging, voice and video chat accessible from a single client, launched just last November and it is unclear how many users are on it.

IBM/Lotus pioneered the so called "business-class" IM space with Sametime, which is secure, archivable instant messaging. Microsoft is likewise trying to move people to a for-fee IM service with its Live Communications Server (LCS). And AOL is clearly looking for ways to upgrade and "monetize" its huge installed base.

Microsoft posted sample code and other tools for developing LCS apps last summer.

While AOL promises developers access to the large AOL IM universe of users, there are licensing limitations. For example, nothing they come up with can block or disable advertisements that flow to users via the IM client. And whatever they build has to target AOL-only IM: If they want to construct something for multiple IM clients--they'll have to find another toolset to do so.

And third-party plug-ins for corporate use will require additional license terms from AOL.