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America Online The Almighty Buck

AOL To Charge for AIM Videoconferences 371

Posted by michael
from the a/s/l dept.
gwoodrow writes "In some of my college computer classes, we discussed the necessity of some sort of profit to be made eventually from major software. AIM was often sited as a rare example of a large company offering up a free service that generated almost no profit whatsoever. Well, that's all changing. It seems that AOL will begin charging for both voice and video conferencing services via the buddy list. Some AIM addicts are surely getting worried that AOL may eventually charge for regular usage."
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AOL To Charge for AIM Videoconferences

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  • by jkeyes (243984) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:00PM (#9416943) Journal
    Why charge for AIM when you can slowly put ads on the AIM conversation windows ala ICQ.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:00PM (#9416944)
    I like working at home in the nude, but that's not something other people need to be exposed to!
  • Hmmm... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lobo (10944) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:01PM (#9416948) Homepage
    I wonder what this means for iChat?

    Just AOL IM or all using the protocol?
    • I would assume they mean the protocol, since the large number of 3rd party clients makes it pretty clear that most people aren't a big fan of the AIM software itself.
    • Re:Hmmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mblase (200735)
      AIM and iChat don't use the same videoconferencing systems -- AIM video chat allows Windows XP and iChat does not; AIM allows USB cameras while iChat requires a FireWire camera (or a special non-Apple driver). So I'm sure iChat users are safe.
      • Re:Hmmm... (Score:5, Informative)

        by jokell82 (536447) on Monday June 14, 2004 @12:00AM (#9417264) Homepage
        Uh, wrong. You can video chat between AIM and iChat, it's just audio that doesn't work right now...

        According to http://www.apple.com/ichat, iChat AV 2.1 supports videoconferencing with the new AOL Instant Messenger 5.5 for Windows, giving you immediate access to the millions of people in both the Mac and PC communities.
        • Re:Hmmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

          I'm pretty sure there's two formats, one for iChat mac-to-mac (it's been around longer than the AIM one, and is better quality) and one for iChat to AIM on PC. I would see mac to mac videochat working still, but possibly some trouble with the mac to PC.
      • Re:Hmmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TimmyDee (713324)
        While all of this is true, it doesn't address the issue of what codecs and standards each system uses. From what I understand, iChat uses it's own system which allows for higher quality video and audio unless you are talking to an AIM client, in which case it probably negotiates using AOL's standard. I checked Apple's website and they weren't too clear on much of iChat's underpinnings. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems as though iChat uses AIM lists to find buddies and then negotiates the audio and v
    • Re:Hmmm... (Score:5, Informative)

      by wo1verin3 (473094) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:19PM (#9417079) Homepage
      Right now it means NOTHING.... everyone is jumping to conclusions instead of RTFA'ing [internetnews.com] (shrug, I feel new here).

      They are taking services from two other providers (I've used WebEx, it's a decent web conference) and allowing them to initiate a voice and/or web conference (multiple particpants). This is a new service for AOL and does not effect a one on one conversation or video conference in any way.
    • Re:Hmmm... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mrloafbot (739993)
      Maybe apple will start adopting other open standards like jabber. I mean come on.. they throw a few bucks tworads jabber and poof! Everybody wins, apple gets a chat protcal everybody can use... apple gets something they can update and add features too and now they wont be tied to one of the major evil empires ( microsoft,aol ) But if you go along with that thinking why dont they release a version of open office for mac, and call it Apple works ( and this time it would )
  • What about iChat? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wheresdrew (735202) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:02PM (#9416950) Journal
    How will they handle this if one person is using iChat and the other's on AOL or AIM?
    • Re:What about iChat? (Score:4, Informative)

      by wo1verin3 (473094) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:22PM (#9417095) Homepage
      It doesn't matter, this is a NEW service for AOL that allows multi-user voice and web conference. It doesn't affect one on one iChat...
    • Re:What about iChat? (Score:4, Informative)

      by DrXym (126579) on Monday June 14, 2004 @06:11AM (#9418354)
      Hover over a buddy in AIM and you'll see what capabilities the other person has available to them, e.g. chat, video etc. I assume that AIM would be smart enough to grey out options that were not applicable for the person you had selected.
    • Nothing will happen to iChat, since this article has nothing to do with anything iChat, or current AIM users on any platform, can do. One-on-one text, audio, and video chat are not affected. This is a NEW service, for "business", that would be targetted at multiple-user videoconferences, integrating meeting technologies from Lightbridge and WebEx. They'll simply be using the AIM buddy list and presence system to initiate contact. Perhaps a new version of AIM will even integrate the feature. But it does NOT
  • by EoRaptor (4083) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:02PM (#9416951)

    AOL will probably be able to charge for this and get away with it, but charging for the basics won't ever work, there are too many free competitors.

    They better improve the software a whole lot though.
    • by cgenman (325138) on Monday June 14, 2004 @01:34AM (#9417547) Homepage
      AOL will probably be able to charge for this and get away with it, but charging for the basics won't ever work, there are too many free competitors.

      Unlikely. It has been proven time and time again that trying to milk people who are drawn to a free service is like trying to herd cats. If you charge 15 cents per person per minute for a conference call (an outrageous price, I might add), why not just call eachother? Or for that matter, why not just AIM? or walk over and talk? The draw of AIM is that it is persistent, easy, and free. a 30 c per minute call is neither.

      Even videoconferencing is a difficult sell, as Yahoo already offers said functionality for free.

  • by skraps (650379) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:02PM (#9416952)
    To avoid being charged, forward this message to everyone on your contact list! AOL will keep track of how many people forward this and if enough of us do, then they will be forced to keep AIM free! Thanks!
  • by eliza_effect (715148) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:02PM (#9416954)
    The problem with a business model like this is that you then your subscribers can only talk to other subscribers. If you essentially ARE the market for instant messenging, the case of AIM, then you're just going to shoot yourself in the foot as you scare away the vast majority of your users. Even if they did charge for any AIM usage (not just voice/video), and I signed up, what would be the point? I can't imagine anyone else I know paying for AIM. Buddy lists will only be filled with fools that have recently parted with their money. I can't imagine that they'll be able to make back in subscribing fees what they'll lose in advertising from the mass exodus..
    • IIRC... a company that has revenue based on ads can typically lose about 1000 to 5000 and sometimes even as many as 10,000 costumers, if one of those customers stays and pays. Of course this all depends on the subscription rate but if thats true then AOL probably has nothing to worry about.
      Regards,
      Steve
    • by raehl (609729) *
      That's like saying the big problem with charging for cars is that only people who buy them will buy them.

      AOL has made the determination that given the choice between providing video conferencing for free and not providing it at all, they'd rather not provide it at all - especially if that allows them to also charge other people for it.

      Yeah, losing "customers" is bad, but giving away product at less than cost is worse.
  • Good (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wandernotlost (444769) <[moc.cigamliart] [ta] [todhsals]> on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:03PM (#9416964)
    I hope they do start charging for it. Perhaps then people will finally move to an open standard such as Jabber.
    • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MP3Chuck (652277) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:11PM (#9417025) Homepage Journal
      As ideal as that would be, you'd probably see a move to MSN Messenger or Yahoo Messenger before they move to something they've never heard of.
      • Unless... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Cyno01 (573917) <Cyno01@hotmail.com> on Monday June 14, 2004 @12:43AM (#9417410) Homepage
        Google offers gIM based on jabber with the launch of gmail. A custom client that could interface with gmail like MSN messenger does with hotmail, but based on an open standard would be great, and google has the recognition to draw people from AIM or Yahoo Messenger. It'd be even better if they offered add ons to services such as GAIM or trillian that combine all the major IM services. *sigh* Wishful thinking...
      • Re:Good (Score:3, Interesting)

        by professorhojo (686761)
        you're probably right.

        unless of course people start taking hold of the jabber framework and building some seriously new, cool apps, which is entirely possible since the framework is totally open and extensible and not controlled by Evilcorp.

        people will definately install new killer apps if they have features users want.

        like ours [qunu.com], hopefully! (instant IM support.)
  • Alternatives... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:03PM (#9416966)
    There are so many alternatives and other options, why would anyone worry? Yeah, okay, you might have to tell/convince your friends to use a different service, but free is a word most people can't ignore.

    Oh, and ads are annoying as hell (reason why I use Gaim).
  • Ads (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shadowkoder (707230) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:04PM (#9416970)
    Doesn't AIM get some money from advertisers since they get their adds put in front of millions of people? I dunno how much $ this would pull, but I would guess its enough to at least break even? Either way, I could see the justification for the more bandwith intensive parts of AIM being paid for, especially if the bandwith strain on the AOL system increases along with it.
  • by deadmongrel (621467) <karthik@poobal.net> on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:04PM (#9416972) Homepage
    Yahoo and MSN offer very good audio and video conf. Somehow I feel AIM is much more bloated than the other two. Yahoo IM has seen a lot of improvements lately. the voice is pretty clear and the video is pretty darn good. Initially it would be difficuly for some to use another messenger, not to mention add everyone in your buddy list but AIM would loose out the cost factor, atleast in audio and video conf.
  • This won't affect me that much even though I do use AIM. Most of my contacts also have other messenger programs, and since trillian is my program of choice it won't change the way I communicate to them one bit. I don't think AOL will charge for it's normal service, in fact I think they will give up on charging for video conference with all the other alternatives out there such as yahoo and msn which also have perfectly capable (and free) video conferencing. Yes they make a little money from advertising,
  • by sirReal.83. (671912) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:04PM (#9416979) Homepage

    That'll kill AIM. Good. 'Bout time the world moves to a better medium for instant messaging [jabber.org].

    And notice I said "better for IM" - as far as I know, streaming XML isn't the best choice for video conferencing.

  • I mean, give me a break. Next thing you know we'll be asked to protest by sending chain IMs around.

  • I've Wondered (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:08PM (#9417008) Homepage
    I have wondered in the past why AOL put out AIM for free. I obviously understand letting AOL members use it, but allowing non-members always confused me. I guess they thought that by letting users use it for free, they would discover they like AOL and switch to it or some such. They couldn't have been dumb enough to think that the ads would cover it (I don't think much of AOL, but even I don't think they are that dumb). I'm not suprised that they will charge for video and audio chats. Text is one thing, but video and audio are bandwidth monsters compared to "lol u kil me". I assume that AOL will still be routing everything through their central server instead of doing the video/audio conferencing straight from one PC to another.

    So what happens? As audio and video chats take off, I think that AIM will decline in use. Many people love AIM, but I think AOL is overestimating how many people like free things better. They'll find something else. In the end it is only those who already subscribe to AOL that will use those services because they won't have to pay extra. There will be a few, but I doubt many will use it with free offerings out there.

    • Re:I've Wondered (Score:4, Insightful)

      by skraps (650379) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:21PM (#9417087)
      I obviously understand letting AOL members use it, but allowing non-members always confused me.
      Their members will value the service more if they can talk to anyone on the internet with it. If it wasn't available for free, then a lot of AOL users would have skipped AIM and gone for something that was free, thus defeating the lock-in.
    • Re:I've Wondered (Score:3, Informative)

      by CodeBuster (516420)
      video and audio do not cost AOL any additional bandwidth over what they are already giving out to subscribers and in the event that two non-AOL AIM users have a video/voice converstaion the cost to AOL is no more than what they already expend to run the list servers. Arbitrarily charging users a per use fee on software that uses bandwidth that they have already paid for in their monthly access fee is a non-starter.
  • by arlandbayes (770479) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:09PM (#9417013) Journal
    Step 1: Offer the service for free initially.
    Step 2: Get the customers hooked.
    Step 3: Milk the customers.
    I wonder if this business strategy has been patented yet.
  • RTFA, as usual (Score:5, Informative)

    by (startx) (37027) <slashdot@unspunproducti o n s . com> on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:10PM (#9417019) Journal
    The article doesn't say anything about charging for video. AOL is introducing a conference call service (like a group chat, only for voice) that they will be charging money for. Now they say you'll be able to integrate video with these conference calls, which sounds cool, but nothing users can currently do free will now cost money
    • Re:RTFA, as usual (Score:4, Insightful)

      by cervo (626632) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:28PM (#9417121) Journal
      Agreed, it seems to be aimed at business users and all and all it is a good idea. It seems like someone calls a meeting, then the participants are IMed a phone number to call. Finally, the meeting is held over the telephone. Video is integrated into it somehow through the "web meeting" portion. The article isn't to clear on how the "web meeting" portion is different from a normal conference.

      Overall, the poster of the article seems to have been going for a sensationalist effect. Perhaps he/she was bored and wanted to get a laugh out of the slashdot crowd who can't RTFA or the poster didn't RTFA him/herself and just formed a gut opinion and posted this in rage. Who knows....

      Overall though this is slashdot news since AOL is aiming at taking a slice out of the market for company conference calls, and we all know companies love to meet/conference/do other time wasting activities. AOL may actually find a good source of revenue and we all know they need it....
  • by jaghatarjankare (787372) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:11PM (#9417022)
    People might actually get some work done again. AIM is the new PowerPoint.
  • Jabber.org [jabber.org].

    Okay, fine. Completely switching is hard since many people still use ICQ/AIM/etc, but that's what clients that support multiple protocols, like gaim and trilliant, are for.

    But whenever you have a chance, for projects, friends, etc. Use Jabber, the future will thank you.
    • by realdpk (116490) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:48PM (#9417213) Homepage Journal
      Perhaps I'm dumb (yeah, opening myself up here), but I was unable to get Jabber to work as a server or a client. I could probably force myself to learn it, but in the time spent on that I could just send an e-mail instead. IM is supposed to be easy.

      Jabber seems to use XML for communications, making debugging it via telnet a royal pain in the ass. Why people use XML is beyond me... simple "USER foo\nPASS bar\n" has been good enough for years.

      Anyways, Trillian doesn't support Jabber (at least, the free version doesn't).
      • by cgenman (325138) on Monday June 14, 2004 @02:03AM (#9417622) Homepage
        PSI is as easy a client to setup as AIM, and significantly easier than ICQ. All you need is a login server, name, and password, and PSI can create all of those for you on jabber.org if you like. Jabber's XML specification makes it much easier to debug than when something goes wrong with MSN. Setting up a Jabber server is not trivial, but it's also not required... You can always use the main centralized server. On the other hand, if you want security, you want your own server, and Jabber is the only one which can deliver that (and which is why most enterprise IM solutions are thinly masked layers upon a basic jabber implementation.)

        Anyways, Trillian doesn't support Jabber (at least, the free version doesn't). Well, yes. But the 15 dollar version does, and is actually quite good at it. I've been using the paid version happily for months. There's not much additional to the paid version except for Jabber, but Trillian is a significant enough piece of software that it deserves support.

  • No Profit? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Doc Squidly (720087) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:16PM (#9417053)
    The author of this story writes: offering up a free service that generated almost no profit whatsoever

    No successful company does anything the doesn't either directly or indirectly generate revenue.

    AOL doesn't make money by selling AIM but by giving it away free it does 2 things.

    1.Enhances the AOL brand. AOL stays well known and attracts customers. Customers=Money.

    2. AIM provides an added functionality to AOL. AOL users who like AIM (because all their AOL friends and some non-AOL friends use AIM). AOL keeps customers. Customers=Money.

    My point? Companies don't have to charge money for a product to profit from it.
  • Dumb idea... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by John Seminal (698722) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:17PM (#9417058) Journal
    First, I do not use AOL IM. But I have friends who do, and most of them also pay for the dial up service. If AOL starts adding on the charges, I think many of them will finally get DSL or a cable modem and use some other service. This is going to backfire and hurt their sales of dial up service, which are probably declining anyways.

    And even if all the other IM services start charging money, it does not matter to me. I could bang out a simple java program which uses sockets to send IM's back and forth with my friends. Anyone that wants to be added to the list can get the program emailed to them, no problem with platform. I know it sounds simplistic, but it is so simple to write in java. I bet there would be a ton of free open source alternatives within a few days.

  • by YouHaveSnail (202852) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:35PM (#9417153)
    What, exactly, are they planning on charging for? The only resources that are really important to make chat systems work are connections at each end, and some sort of directory to tell you what computer to contact to reach a given person.

    Now, I already pay for my connection, and my ISP thanks me for it once a month. The directory service can be implemented any of a bunch of different ways, including using existing protocols.

    AOL cleverly inserted itself into instant messaging by designing AIM to make the AIM servers a sort of middleman (at least according to my limited understanding of AIM workings). They did a lot to make instant messaging easy to use and popular, and in return they got a lot of influence in that sector. But if they're going to charge, they're going to have to add some sort of greater value than what I see right now.
  • by jgaynor (205453) <[jon] [at] [gaynor.org]> on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:45PM (#9417199) Homepage
    Congratulations America - Antitrust law is now as worthless as the paper it's printed on!

    A provision of the original terms of the AOL/Time Warner merger was the AOL would have to open it's AIM protocol before it implemented voice/video services:

    In a January 11, 2001 statement by FCC Chairman William E. Kennard, upon AOL's merger with Time Warner, the FCC noted that "We require AOL to interoperate with competing instant messaging (IM) providers before it can offer videoconferencing and other streaming video over IM. This condition guards against AOL's ability to leverage its existing dominance in current IM into the broadband IM marketplace."

    The FCC never followed through on this - and now AOL is officially offering voice/video and charging for it to boot. So go ahead enormous corporations! Merge to your hearts content! Merge up and down the supply chain, across competitors, whatever you want - Its all good! We'll slap provisions on you to pretend we're protecting the marketplace but won't enforce them!

    Remember last week's column on abolishing the FCC? Maybe it deserves a second look at this point . . .
  • by ThisIsFred (705426) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:47PM (#9417210) Journal
    Why should we even worry about this? Lots of previous AOL subscribers found out that they really only wanted plain Internet access, and moved on to cheaper alternatives. Either AOL will find a new source of revenue, or their subscriber base will shrink even further.
  • by ChiaKemp (713567) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:56PM (#9417244)
    From working at a computer repair business/ISP, I've noticed most novice or inexperienced users are totally unaware of other IM service other than AIM. AOL could start charging for basic AIM service, and there's a good chance they could keep the less experienced portion of their user base. If the users are unaware of an alternative, are unable to install/configure one themselves (trivial for /.ers, but software installation scares off many users), or simple do not want to/fear using new software, many would stick with AIM. Doing this on the logic that for them there is no other way to message on another. The lucky ones with geek friends/family could straighten them out, but the "unwashed masses" would be stuck with paying to message.
  • by TheSync (5291) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @11:56PM (#9417247) Journal
    I personally don't use video AIM because it only runs on Windows XP, and I am exclusively Win2K on my home PCs.

    I use Yahoo Internet Chat video and audio. I've done chats with people in Iraq, Jordan, and Pakistan.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 14, 2004 @12:13AM (#9417316)
    Recently AOL changed their policy to lock out the AIM accounts of people who created those accounts while they were paying AOL members. These AIM accounts used to work fine, even after cancelling your AOL account (as you would expect, since AIM is a "free" service).

    Unfortunately, now you need to sign up again (and pay $$) to "rescue" your AIM account (and your AIM id, which everyone knows you as). And you need to remain paying, or else.... Yes, you get locked out again.

    Brilliant plan AOL.

    Aq
  • by Samari711 (521187) on Monday June 14, 2004 @12:43AM (#9417413)
    this is not a reason to swith from AIM, AOL isn't about to charge for anything Joe User cares about. This is without a doubt part of their plan to legitimize AIM for use in the work place and then chage buisnesses for advanced features that most end users wouldn't ever want. It's been their longterm goal for a while now. They've got a whole site dedicated to it. companies want control and security so AOL is trying to get them to buy stuff like encryption, identity verification, domained screen names, and i think they've got a version of aim that allows network admins to control who talks to who and logs conversations. everyone is familiar with their basic product so it allows them to make a pretty good pitch once they add in the extras.
  • by Eric(b0mb)Dennis (629047) * on Monday June 14, 2004 @01:03AM (#9417463)
    With single screennames going on ebay for $100+.... i mean come on..

  • AIM is dying. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tokerat (150341) on Monday June 14, 2004 @01:32AM (#9417538) Journal

    ...or at least it's becomming more and more visible how it's going too. It's too damn hard to get a screen name that isn't taken, because you have all of AIM and all of regular AOL to compete with, and accounts don't ever disappear. Eventually that namespace is going to be used up.

    Charging for voice and video is an injustice because AOL is not bouncing the stream off it's own servers; it goes P2P, so to speak. So what are they charging for? You're effectively renting software as you use it, and that's not going to fly, for the same reason charging micropayments by the IM is a bad idea.

    Looks liek it's time for me to get started on that IM client project I've been meaning to start for years, everytime I get fed up with being booted off AOL. I'll make millions while AOL crumbles beneath me! MUAHAHA*ahem* sorry.
  • by digitalgimpus (468277) on Monday June 14, 2004 @08:51AM (#9418859) Homepage
    I wrote this the other day, if anyone is interested:

    It's time for an international standard on Instant Messaging [accettura.com]

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