AOL Takes New AIM, but Users Unimpressed

Locked in a skirmish with Microsoft and Yahoo! in the lucrative instant messaging space, AOL Time Warner launched a new version of its AOL Instant Messenger application designed to promote its own online offerings — yet while it’s touted as “the coolest AIM ever!”, some of AOL’s biggest fans aren’t too happy with the upgrade.

The AIM 4.7 software includes teen-targeted bells and whistles — such as picture “ratings,” instant message “flirt” icons, and so on. But the upgrade’s loudest feature — the “AIM Today” pop-up window that resembles a personalized information portal — is also its most annoying.

“(The) ‘AIM Today’ feature annoys me more than anything else. It pops up a few seconds after I sign on to AIM, and there is nothing on it that I like anyway. There is also no way to set my preferences to get rid of it,” 15-year-old Nicole Gose of Honolulu, Hawaii said in an e-mail complaint.

“I’m sorry I downloaded the upgrade,” she said. “I would rather have the old version … Now, I’m stuck with this. If I were to uninstall AIM 4.7 and go back to the older version, I would lose my buddy list settings.”

Indeed, the teenager’s complaint mirrors those of many AIM users who are connecting on dial-up modems. The ‘AIM Today’ pop-up window, with a heavy dose of rich-media ads and graphics, tend to slow connections and cause major headaches for users.

But the panel serves a major purpose for America Online — driving content to its Web properties like portal and radio site Promoting its own Web sites has recently become a major push for AOL, which is embroiled in a contest of wills with Microsoft’s Web portal MSN. The two have clashed over hot topics like desktop icon placement and rumored efforts to change the default browser for the America Online service to AOL-owned Netscape Navigator.

That’s to say nothing of the fact that AOL is competing with Microsoft and Yahoo! for dominance in the IM market. To prod users into recommending friends to the IM service, the new AIM upgrade automatically embeds an icon on the computer’s desktop, offering a free trial for its ISP service. Downloading AIM 4.7 also automatically adds AOL’s Web site to a user’s “favorites” folder in the Web browser.

So when consumers like Gose say they’re unhappy with the new version of AIM, it could mean big problems for the media giant’s plans to position the service as a promotional platform for content from the vast AOL Time Warner empire.

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