AOL tests new IM chat bot

As part of its continuous push to market its AOL Instant Messenger program, America Online is testing a new instant-chat robot that answers questions from AIM users about weather and stocks.

In December, the online service introduced a test version of an "interactive agent" or programmed chat "buddy" called ZoeOnAOL. AIM users can add Zoe's name to their buddy list in order to get answers to questions such as "What is the weather in San Francisco?" or simply "Weather 94105," or to call up stock quotes.

"We're always looking for ways to enhance the value of IM," said AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham. "This is a fun and interesting way for members to interact with a conversational bot."

ZoeOnAOL is the latest in a line of instant-chat bots introduced by various companies. It most closely resembles the functionality of once-popular buddy "SmarterChild," developed by New York-based ActiveBuddy, which gave people using AOL, Yahoo or MSN the ability to play games or access data on sports, weather or finances via instant chat.

This January, the Dr. Pepper/7Up company quietly launched an AIM bot to market its new soft drink, dnL. The agent is called "dnLFlipit"--because dnL flipped spells 7up--and it answers questions about the soda, doles out locations where people can try it and hosts word games.

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