AOL Instant Messaging Proposal Falls Flat

According to rival instant messaging firms, America Online Inc., which dubs its company “the world’s largest
interactive service,” is not interactive at all when it concerns instant
messaging.

America Online late Thursday unveiled its proposal for open instant messaging
standards to the Internet Engineering Task
Force
, as originally requested from industry members in March.

AOL’s proposal confirmed the company is in no rush to link-up with rival
instant messaging systems until security and privacy concerns of the
programs 50 million users are fully addressed.

AOL said that while the company is committed to allowing its instant
messaging system to work with others, the focus should be on protecting
consumers and preventing past mistakes.

Tricia Primrose, AOL spokesperson, said member security concerns would not
be compromised for the sake of open interoperability.

“One of the ramifications of open standards for e-mail is spam,” Primrose
said. “AOL will not rush to put an open standard for instant messaging in
place that doesn’t protect consumers.”

The open standards working group intends to publish its final proposal for
a wholly interoperable instant messaging standard in July, but bickering
over standards has slowed the groups process to date.

According to Primrose, there is no particular timetable for AOL to accept
any recommendations the IETF may make.

AOL has come under heavy fire from competitors for delaying and blocking
other instant messaging services from communicating with AOL users over the
past year.

Competitors claim that AOL controls more than 90 percent of the instant
messaging market. The same firms contend that AOL’s stance on instance
messaging should stop it from merging with Time Warner Inc. ,
as it is a harbinger of anti-competitive things to come from the online giant.

In its proposal to the IEFT, AOL cited its track record in sharing instant
messaging systems with outside firms as part of its commitment to member
privacy.

AOL noted it has struck agreements with more than a dozen companies ranging
from IBM Corp., to Web
portal Lycos Inc.,
and EarthLink Inc. owned MindSpring,
Enterprises Inc.
Each company is able to distribute AOL instant
messaging software to their customers for use without paying royalties.

Odigo Inc. has been sparring with AOL
engineers since it launched an instant messaging program that is compatible
with AOL’s proprietary AIM system. New patches are released daily as the
pitched battle for open access to AOL instant message users continues.

Avner Ronen, Odigo vice president of strategic design, scoffed at AOL’s
professed desire for open standards stating that one hour after its
proposal to the IETF, AOL again blocked Odigo’s access to AOL Messenger.

“What AOL has posted is no more than an outline for interoperability,”
Ronen said. “On the surface, great, they are committed. However, they have
claimed commitment for over one year now. This outline has no time-frame
and no specific architecture. AOL’s announcement does not bring us any
closer to a standard platform.”

Roee Vulkan, Odigio programming team leader said AOL is playing a
cat-and-mouse game with its IP address.

“AOL’s blocking our IP addresses does not effect our ability to provide
interoperability to our users,” Vulkan said. “We continue to have
interoperability and, if our users are blocked, will continue to restore
interopera

bility.”

In effect, by blocking Odigo’s old IP address, AOL has only blocked
interoperability for a total of 80 people, while the remaining 750,000
Odigo users continue to have access.

Ronen said Odigo is truly committed to providing interoperability, not
lip-service to open standards.

“AOL claims that they are also in favor of interoperability. We have been
very vocal in wanting to work with AOL,” Ronen said. “Yet the only response
we’ve received from AOL has been a series of blocks to accessibility.”

While the instant messaging skirmish continues, AOL sought to focus on
business as usual. America Online announced Friday that membership of its
online service has surpassed 23 million.

Bob Pittman, AOL president and chief operating officer, said AOL service is
continuing its strong growth among mass-market consumers and becoming even
more central to their everyday lives.

“Our members are increasingly taking advantage of our premium services,
full range of features and valuable member benefits, while enjoying
industry-leading privacy and security,” Pittman said. “We are committed to
continuing to enhance our flagship service and ‘AOL Anywhere’ products
across a full range of devices to deliver our interactive experience
whenever and wherever our members want it.”

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