AOL Takes AIM at Online Meetings

New service adds voice conferencing and Web meetings to buddy lists.
The never-ending quest to find revenue streams in the 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.

Recently, AOL's 36 million active IM users got access to the new AIM Business Services, which marries voice conferencing from Lightbridge and Web meetings 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 told

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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