AOL to offer Web API for its IM

AOL, a division of Time Warner, will make its AIM instant messaging network web-friendly, making web-based application programming interfaces (API) and widgets available to anyone who wants to incorporate AIM functionality right into their Web sites and online communities, company executives say. OpenAIM was announced earlier this year, but was restricted to desktop applications.

“There are various folks who have ideas and needs to adopt it for their own specific use,” said Stephen Benedict, Principal Product Manager for the AIM Service at AOL, said in an interview today. AOL wants to encourage people to build businesses around OpenAIM, and is now extending the functionality to the web. “We will provide tools around this and extend the concept of presence and identity,” Benedict added.
This web API move can be viewed as a rearguard action for AOL – increasingly developers are beginning to center their IM/real time communication strategies on Jabber/XMPP platforms. The SIPphone-LiveJournal collaboration, which was reported on GigaOM earlier this summer is a perfect example of the new found affection for these open platforms. (XMPP approach entails primarily building out your own server locally and federating whereas AIM is about easily integrating with hugely popular IM service out there.) By offering OpenAIM and its web APIs, AOL is trying to stay relevant in the IM ecosystems. The recent Userplane acquisition is also part of company’s platform extension strategy.
OpenAIM, so far has been restricted to desktop applications – PlayLinc and Doppelganger being two examples of such applications that use AIM’s authentication, IM and presence information. The web version of OpenAIM is an effort by the company to rally web developers to its platform. The company is betting that its web APIs will result in many mash-ups and extend the utility of the AIM network, estimated to have 63 million users.
For developers the lure of the AIM user base can be pretty alluring. Kust like Google Maps API allows you to easily plug in a map without worrying about the cartography details, OpenAIM gives you messaging capabilities integrated with a developer ID. The installed base can easily log into new applications, try them out and become converts if the service meets their approval – no complicated sign-on process. Theoretically, the OpenAIM web APIs could be used to develop a social network build around the AIM authentication system that uses the IM network for communication. AOL is hoping that many other use case scenarios will emerge. “We cannot be all things to all people,” says Benedict.
AOL, till recently an access provider decided to morph into a web-services companies earlier this year, betting that it could race against time, and retain its dwindling dial-up user base by offering them free web-based offerings. The company’s biggest advantage is that it understands the average users. But it also needs to adapt and compete with the more nimble competitors such as Google.
The service is essentially free if the number of daily logons to the AIM doesn’t exceed 250,000 a day and tops out at 2 million logons a month. After that company says it will enter into a commercial agreement with the developers, but the terms are going to be pretty reasonable. We aren’t clear on how this will apply to existing businesses built around AIM, such as the web-based multiple-service instant messaging interface from Meebo.
Amongst the widgets to be offered, there will be an IM widget, the Buddy List widget, and a Get Info Widget, which provides buddy info by way of a separate window. These will be offered as APIs along with a Presence API, which would allow AIM users to get and set their availability, away messages and profiles.
The web-version of OpenAIM is likely to be announced later today tomorrow at the WebGuild conference in Santa Clara, California. As part of announcements, the company is going to offer an AIM widget that can be put on your blog, or on your personal space.