AIM 6.0 Goes State of the Art

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AOL’s wildly popular IM program, AIM, has released version 6.0 of its software tonight. When you’re a global giant, you don’t have to lead the state of the art (unless you’re Google) – you can just follow the lead of the best startups that haven’t near the market share you have. That’s especially true of AIM, who has perhaps the ultimate bragging rights regardless: 44.8 million monthly unique visitors, 5 million more than Yahoo! and MSN combined, the company says. Market dominance plus following the lead of innovative smaller players is not a bad strategy, as long as you’re relatively quick about it. Update: I got properly checked in comments on this late night post, the world outside the US uses a variety of other IM programs as well. :) Thanks for reading, everyone else, we do want to do a good job covering markets throughout the world.

AIM 6.0 is built on top of the experimental project AIM Triton. That means that a lot of “value added” features like links to AOL music will be present – perhaps people like that but judging from the screenshot after the fold I can’t imagine using it. Desktop IM should be open source or a loss leader with unobtrusive ads at most. If you are an AIM user who doesn’t like the upgrade and insists on still using AIM anyway see oldversion.com.

AIM is Windows only but does have a new API, which could lead to interesting developments. The absence of interoperability across platforms means that Adium or Trillian are the only real options for heavy IM users, but casual users will have their experience changed by tonight’s upgrade. If you don’t mind a Windows only IM that can’t communicate with other IM platforms, has plenty of advertisements and a number of honestly useful features like mobile integration – then the new AIM could be for you. Highlights of the new version include the following:

Conversation logging. If you are using AIM for conversations that are at all important, you want to save a log of those conversations. It’s essential. Opt-out is an option. Adium and Skype do this for me, who does it for you?

Offline messaging. Send messages to people even when they aren’t online, they will receive them when they sign on. Also essential, just note the time stamp of any message you get when you first sign on – it may not be urgent any more. Skype does this for me.

RSS integration with social networks. Inform your buddies whenever you update your page on YouTube, Digg, Flickr, Xanga, and other accounts. This is a very compelling features that will ramp up page views substantially. Call it a Multiply/Facebook/Vox style newsfeed or call it Zaptxt, it’s the state of the art. The only question is how to manage permissions and privacy.

AIM presence and more on AIM Pages. That’s good. MySpace presence indicator, MeeboMe widgets and more – social networking and IM go together like social networking and site mail. Very well.

Mobile Dashboard – one-click access to the Buddy List, manage mobile alerts, reminders and IM forwarding – have IMs sent to your cell phone once you log off the desktop AIM client. This sounds good and bad, it’s a monster in and of itself that deserves detailed review.

1,000,000 friends. That means no limits on friends, which is good. Limits on the number of people you add as friends is as silly as designating all your contacts “friends” is, but hey – one issue at a time.

Amp’d Mobile will offer the Mobile AIM free for the next 2 months. Amp’d and Helio are in a war to see who can add more 3rd party services. That’s great.

Together these updates represent a major relaunch for AIM. AIM is the world leader in IM, so this is going to change a lot of peoples’ experiences with the medium. It’s still hard to get too excited about any of it without cross platform interoperability, so I’ll continue using Adium and Skype IM. It’s good to know what millions of young people will now be introduced to though. Unless there is a major consumer backlash against the now long feature list, and I doubt there will be, then tonight’s relaunch looks like good news for AOL.

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