AIM Gets A Major Makeover

AOL will on Wednesday make available AIM 6.0, bringing the largest instant messaging client up to speed with the rest of the web. It’s been a long time coming; version 5.0 of the client was released in July 2002.
The new client includes the addition of offline messaging and conversation logging (which is opt-in for you privacy nuts). It also aggregates users’ activities on outside social networks and blogging tools across the web via RSS feeds, bringing AIM much closer to the uber-social network it has the power to be.

The existing AIM client and AOL in-client IM receive 42.8 million users per month, more than Yahoo and MSN combined, the company says. That figure does not include AIM users like me who use an outside alternative to AOL’s official clients, but the company was not able to track down the number of such users before press time.

Over the last couple years, AOL’s outlet for experimentation with instant messaging was an AIM alternative called Triton, which was not a required upgrade but instead an optional client which attracted 30 percent of the user base. However, AIM hasn’t been completely silent; over the last year it opened its platform, added APIs, and built in VoIP. Additionally, AOL acquired web messaging company Userplane in August.

The new AIM 6 is based on the Triton codebase, thought the Triton name is being dropped. After giving the new product some time to mature, AOL will try to move over all its users to the new AIM 6 with an upgrade alert in mid-December.
One thing we really like about the new AIM is the integration of RSS feeds all over the client, giving users the ability to associate their feeds from places like YouTube and Blogger with their IM ID, and associate any new content with their buddy icon across all their friends’ clients. This is the kind of mashed-up social network we we talking about yesterday.

AOL is finally flexing more of its vast social networking abilities of AIM by changing the welcome window (the one that usually features Jessica Simpson or Paris Hilton) to a screen featuring the most recent updates from all your buddies, similar to the Facebook News Feed.

As of Wednesday, AOL will also inflate the member count of its AIM Pages substantially by giving every AIM user a profile page. Changes to profile pages can be managed and viewed within the client, so it’s basically a social network turned inside out, with the centerpiece being IM.

If you’ve got the luxury of an application running on millions of desktops, it makes sense not to make the web browser the center of your network. Personally, though, I’ve already got a satisfactory balance between my web-based social networks and iChat, so it’s a little late to draw me back onto the ad-laced AIM client just so I can have everything centralized.

Like we said, the upgrade was a long time coming… so there’s quite a bit of new stuff here. The client better integrated with mobile phones via an in-client dashboard; has some nice interface updates like tabs for messages received while away as well as video, audio, and picture-sharing; and allows buddy lists of up to 1,000 friends (now that’s just silly!).

Lastly, AIM 6 users can create their own avatar though a partnership with WeeWorld. (These avatars, called WeeMees, are actually really cool; we’ve talked to WeeWorld about them earlier this year and were unexpectedly infatuated, but unfortunately didn’t get to write it up at the time.)

Nice job AOL; glad you could make it!