AOL on IM Interoperability Issue: 'The industry will hear something from us soon'

Published June 15th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

After pressure from rivals and the Federal government, America Online Inc. will "soon" present the industry with a proposal for interoperability for its popular instant messaging services, Barry Schuler, president of America Online Interactive Services was quoted as saying by CNET News.com .  

The proposal will let people using services other than AOL's AIM or ICQ instant messaging clients send messages to one another, Schuler said in an interview yesterday at the Internet giant's headquarters in Dulles, Va.  

Federal regulators examining the proposed megamerger between AOL and Time Warner, which is expected to close this fall, have requested more information on several key issues, including instant messaging, to determine the effect of the combination on competition.  

Instant messaging is a non-issue, Schuler said in the interview, referring to the recent request from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  

Currently ICQ and AIM, one of the most popular features among AOL's 22.5 million subscribers, is closed.  

"The whole merger is under review by the FTC, so the entire business is [being reviewed]," Schuler said, adding that the instant messaging part of its business is not being singled out by the commission. 

"Clearly it's not an issue, because the instant messaging system is free. There is no damage to consumers -- they can use every message system out there. AIM (AOL Instant Messaging) is free on the Internet. The way the FTC has to look at things, it is absolutely a non-issue."  

The online giant is committed to interoperability once privacy and security concerns are addressed, said Schuler, who will become chairman and chief executive of AOL after it merges with Times Warner. 

"We are planning to put out to the industry a way we think that can be done in terms of commitment to interoperability. [The industry] will hear something from us soon."  

He declined to say exactly when such a standard proposal would come. In the meantime, he explained why AOL has not yet moved toward interoperability.  

"From a technical point of view, it's a very difficult thing to do. If you go back and look at the history of mail, which moves at the same pace, everyone had different mail systems and then everyone decided it would be good to have mail systems talk to each other," Schuler said. "And standards were created for it. What happened was a mistake, in retrospect. No one was thinking about spam -- about how we could build a standard in such a way that could make spam very hard to do."  

"As a consequence today, we all in the industry are living with an issue where viruses are passed around and where pornographic material is passed to kids' mailboxes. So when it comes to instant messaging, it's the same problem, only worse. Pornography in the IM world is not just dirty pictures, it's about pedophiles propositioning kids in real time."  

AOL will likely continue to focus on real-time communications for its instant messaging service rather than bringing content such as sports scores into the mix.  

"We have found out that consumers want to use messaging for messaging -- really use it for a communication tool. I think that is going to be our focus," he said.  

Although analysts expect the deal to get a close look from regulators, as other recent megamergers have, most expect the deal to be approved by the fall without the company making major concessions.  

Many analysts expect the company to commit to open access, allowing other cable providers' programming to run over its systems. AOL has voiced its commitment to open access many times before.  

"In the AOL-TimeWarner merger, there is no overlap of our business. In Exxon-Mobil, in the phone mergers there has been overlap of market share or consolidation of like businesses that causes [companies] to have to divest this and that. There is no overlap. I don't expect to see that kind of issue come up," Schuler said --Albawaba.com 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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