America Online is opening its AIM instant messaging network to external developers, the company is to announce.
The Open AIM initiative is designed to facilitate the development of AIM plug-ins, the creation of AIM user interface applications and the integration of AIM presence information into Web sites, said Jamie Odell, AIM director of product management at AOL.
With Open AIM, AOL will try to insert its popular instant messaging service into the "mash-up" phenomenon that is a central part of what pundits call the Web 2.0 era. Mash-up is a term used to describe the integration of two separate Web-based applications or services.
Google has been at the forefront of this trend with Google Maps, whose open architecture has prompted hordes of external developers to build applications on top of it. Google has acknowledged that this mapping service's functionality has been extended in a faster and more diverse way than the company could have done internally. This is one of the main drivers for AOL as well.
"By enabling external developers to create applications on top of our network, we can provide AIM users with new features we wouldn't otherwise do, for whatever reason, like there's not a big market [for that feature]," said Justin Uberti, AIM's chief architect. In this way, AOL will attract new users and make AIM more appealing to the service's existing 63 million users, Uberti said.
The Open AIM initiative surprised analyst Joe Wilcox from JupiterResearch. "It's not something I expected from AOL, but it's the right direction at the right time," Wilcox said.
Open AIM will have its own Web site, where developers will find tools and documentation. The program is open to developers working individually and to those working for companies. Developers are allowed to give commercial use to the AIM plug-ins and applications they build, with some limits and restrictions.