IM startups want in on AOL's buddy list

Published June 14th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Similar to other start-up instant messaging firms, Odigo tried its hand earlier this week at interoperability with AOL's Instant Messenger (AIM), but was shut out again, only hours after it had announced interoperability, according to reports by CNET on Wednesday. 

In fact, the companies have gone through two rounds of blocking and connecting, putting the parties in a punching contest to see who will break first. As of this afternoon, Odigo was again interoperable with AIM.  

According to Avner Ronen, an Odigo founder, Odigo can communicate with ICQ, another instant messaging service owned by AOL. Odigo has been interoperable with ICQ since January but not with AOL's AIM.  

"We'd rather stop fighting and start talking," said Ronen. "But the thing is, they haven't returned any of our calls."  

Odigo is also initiating discussions with other instant messaging companies to develop interoperability. But for now, the company's battle with AOL will continue until an accord is reached, Odigo's Ronen said.  

"We really want to come into some sort of agreement with them that will provide our services with their users," he said.  

AOL spokeswoman Tricia Primrose reiterated recent statements about the company's policy toward unsolicited attempts by rivals to communicate with AIM users.  

"Our policy is to block unauthorized access to our servers," Primrose said. "We will continue to block Odigo's efforts to access our servers to ensure the privacy and security of our members." 

AOL's ongoing scruff with Odigo mirrors a similar fight last year with Microsoft. That battle was sparked when the software giant released its MSN Messenger service, which allowed customers to communicate with AIM Buddy Lists. But after a series of blocks and reestablished access, Microsoft threw in the towel.  

AOL has taken similar measures with online service Prodigy and Tribal Voice, which is owned by CMGI on the grounds that such firms are "hacking" into AOL's servers. 

What has made interoperability with AIM attractive is AOL's 91 million "Buddy List" network registrants, first only to Israeli Mirabellis' ICQ, which has another 62.4 million registered users and is also owned by AOL after a $278 million buyout two years ago. 

Odigo and other Instant Messaging startups want in on AOL's Buddy List. More than 40 companies have signed a letter to federal regulators urging them to support opening up America Online's instant messaging network when examining the Net giant's proposed acquisition of Time Warner worth $113 billion.  

Instant messaging allows people to communicate in real time over the Internet. Most technologies produced by an array of companies are proprietary. But critics of AOL say the company should open its network to allow all technologies to communicate with one another.  



Promises of Open Standards 


Instant messaging rivals say AOL has not kept its promises to work toward an open standard for the technology, a claim that the online giant denies. Companies arguing against AOL say instant messaging, like the telephone, is a communications vehicle that should be open regardless of technology.  

"As IM continues to utilize content created by companies such as Time Warner, the potential merger raises even greater concern about AOL blocking their users from access to non-AOL users," Margaret Heffernan, chief executive of iCast, said in a statement. "We simply cannot allow AOL to stifle innovation and hinder interoperability." 

AOL spokeswoman Primrose countered that the company has supported the widespread adoption of instant messaging throughout the industry and continues to support interoperability. She pointed out that AOL has opened its service to outside providers -- including IBM, Novell, Lycos, EarthLink, Apple Computer and Juno Online Services -- through licensing agreements. These partners can use AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) technology to create their own branded, or co-branded, software to offer customers.  

"It is important to remember that AOL pioneered instant messaging and has done more than any other company out there to extend instant messaging to consumers," Primrose said. Both AIM and ICQ are proprietary systems that require people to download the software.  

Rivals have turned to federal regulators, asking them to examine instant messaging dominance when reviewing AOL's pending acquisition of Time Warner. The Federal Communications Commission yesterday said it sent a letter to AOL requesting information about its instant messaging services.  

Net giants such as Yahoo are finding ways to establish their own standards. The portal is in discussions with companies including Microsoft and CMGI to create a group of interoperable technologies.  

AOL has said it supports the widespread adoption of an instant messaging standard throughout the industry. But it has criticized standards efforts by companies as being too lax on security and privacy and has said it will not accept any proposals that undermine these principles. 

In the meantime, several companies, including AOL and Microsoft, have supported the adoption of an instant messaging standard overseen by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), an Internet standards body. But participants have criticized the IETF for dragging its feet and AOL for showing tepid support for the standard. Some, such as Yahoo, are looking to establish their own standard --

© 2000 Al Bawaba (

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