AOL Takes AIM at Online Meetings

The never-ending quest to find revenue streams in the public (consumer) instant messaging market has hit a new gear with America Online’s rollout of new paid service to allow voice conferencing and browser-based Web meetings direct from IM buddy lists.

On Thursday, AOL’s 36 million active IM users will get access to
the new AIM Business Services, which marries voice conferencing from
Lightbridge and Web
technology from WebEx in a single interface to power
online meetings.

Senior VP of AOL’s Desktop Messaging, Edmund Fish, said millions of users have long been using AIM as the “front door for business
communications,” making it a no-brainer to launch premium services for that market.

“Users are already treating AIM as the front door to initiate
communications. They are already checking the buddy list for online
presence and using AIM as an invitation tool to set up meetings,” he

A new communications taskbar will be added to the AIM client to
allow users to place conference calls to users on their buddy lists.
It allows meeting hosts to purchase per-participant, per-minute call
units and issue invitations to contacts on their buddy lists to
participate in a conference call.

The service, which is powered by Lightbridge’s GroupTalk
technology, sends an IM to an invited participant with details of the
conference call. A Web-based interface then asks for a contact phone
number. Once the number is supplied, the telephone rings within
seconds and the conference call is launched.

In order to handle users who are offline or using mobile devices, AIM Voice Conferencing allows the host to place calls directly from the Web interface.

The service costs about 15 cents a minute per user and AOL allows
users to purchase call units in three options: 120 call units for $20; 300 call units for $50 or 660 call units for $100.

The Web Meetings portion of the service also integrates video
conferencing and document sharing and can also be launched directly
from the buddy list interface. The meeting host sends out invites
with a URL link and a meeting number. AIM Web Meetings will cost 33
cents a minute on weekdays and 15 cents a minute on weekends.

Fish said existing WebEx subscribers can use the service on AIM
with their existing WebEx accounts.

AOL also launched the AIM Identity Services to allow enterprise customers to reserve a screen name domain to maintain business identities across e-mail and instant messaging. The service allows a company to provision users AIM screen names that follow the structure user@domain to match corporate e-mail address structure.

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