March 15, 2006, 11:16 AM — I believe AOL just did something pretty smart with AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) that may help them improve corporate penetration. They just released an SDK (Software Development Kit), free to programmers for the time of a download. Their FAQ explains most of the details.
Why do I think this is cool? Because users in big corporations keep finding ways to use Instant Messaging clients from vendors, and the companies keep closing them down (or at least they should because of the security risks involved with unmanaged use). But users keep reloading their AIM and others, because they find the services useful.
Smart retail operations provide IM connections using AOL and the other popular IM clients like Yahoo and MSN to answer questions from potential customers. One reason I believe eBay bought Skype is to entice the millions and millions of active Skype users to connect to eBay merchants via Skype's IM component or Voice over IP service.
Using the AIM SDK, corporations can program AIM support directly into their own applications or information portals. In fact, they can make their own AIM client software, brand it with the company name, and pass the applications around to employees or customers. AIM becomes more manageable, corporate advantages such as easy communication and presence indicators (is a person on their computer or not?) become available, and network administrators have some control and oversight of the AIM process.
For employees working with critical information, AIM may not be the smart choice because it is not encrypted. Unless AOL offers a way to run your own AIM server that allows you to restrict messages to your internal network (I can't see any evidence of such a service), sending customer credit card information or patient health records and the like over AIM could be illegal. But most corporate communications aren't so sensitive. Tying field techs together, or sales people to the sales manager, using AIM will improve communications.
Skype does offer encrypted IM, and their development support includes this page of documentation. But Skype doesn't have near the penetration in the U.S. that AOL does, so AIM may be a good way to start your corporate explorations of the IM world.