AOL extends AIM developer program

AOL is broadening the operating system support of its developer tools beyond Windows with the addition of Mac OS X and Linux. AOL is also adding support for the Java programming language and the Pocket PC mobile platform, and is offering new tools for computer-to-computer communication, IM robots and detecting users’ geographical location.

AOL launched the Open AIM program in March to let external developers craft AIM plug-ins, create AIM user interface applications and integrate AIM presence information into Web sites. So far, about 45,000 developers have registered with the program.

“We know we don’t have all the best ideas so we want to encourage the developer community to build their applications on top of our platform. That benefits us, the developers and to the whole AIM community,” said Alan Keister, AOL’s senior director of engineering for IM and social networking.

Letting third-party developers integrate applications and plug-ins with existing online networks and Web sites has become popular in recent years. This is often called a “mash-up” and it is a core characteristic of the so-called Web 2.0 era. It has become particularly common for providers of online mapping services, such as Google and Yahoo, to give developers access to their architecture and let them extend their mapping Web sites’ functionality.

There is no cost for joining the Open AIM program, building applications and profiting from them. If an AIM-based application becomes extremely popular and users log-in to the network more than 2 million times per month, AOL may seek to establish a more formal licensing relationship with the developer, an AOL spokeswoman said.

With this program, AIM will have many more applications built for it than AOL could build by itself, said Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox. This is important as competition in the IM space increases and providers fight for market share, he said.

The areas AOL is extending the program into are good choices, he said. IM robots, which provide information on-demand via IM sessions, are efficient vehicles for users to obtain data. Location-based services are a natural fit for IM networks, particularly in a mobile setting, to target content at users based on where they are. Finally, the PC-to-PC calling feature is an attempt by AOL to attract Internet telephony traffic away from eBay’s Skype. “It’s a nice extension of what they started several months ago,” Wilcox said.

Open AIM’s Web site has tools and documentation. The program is open to developers working individually and to those working for companies.

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