AOL fights IM fade-out

America Online is warming up to instant messaging video features that it once dismissed as irrelevant, in the latest sign that the company is playing catch-up to rivals in a key communications technology that it pioneered.

AOL on Monday confirmed that it has begun testing a feature that lets subscribers swap video clips over its instant messaging software. The feature, dubbed "record and forward," lets people record video through a Webcam and send the file to another AOL IM user via a peer-to-peer connection. Recipients play back the video as a downloaded file, not as a live stream. "What we are seeking to do with this record and forward video feature is to test its adoption and popularity with our audience and determine its potential as a possible feature within a future AOL client," AOL spokesman Derrick Mains said in an e-mail. "Although video over IM has yet to take off with a mass-market audience, we have seen it begin to catch on among early adopters as other services offer it as a feature."

The decision to explore new features for IM comes amid broad disarray at AOL Time Warner's AOL division, which is seeking to revamp its service to stem defections to high-speed Net providers and lower-priced dial-up services while fending off investigations of its accounting practices. The effects are being felt even in its IM business, where the company's ICQ and AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) services have dominated for years. AOL's test marks a significant reversal for the company on the IM development front. Until recently, AOL executives discredited video IM's consumer appeal and prided themselves on keeping IM free from the bells and whistles adopted by competitors such as Yahoo.

News source: C|net

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