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ICQ vs. AIM vs. AIMster

NMC/Radio and Records eChart main column as published in the 11/9/01 issue of R&R Sometimes, large corporations make moves that confuse their users, especially in technology where the way a piece of software works could affect the legal, social and financial standing of the company. Confuse the public, and a company could find themselves trying to explain themselves out of a corner. AOL needs to do some explaining.

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ICQ (I-Seek-You), the first wildly popular instant messaging service, originally created in Israel, is now owned by AOL. America Online also owns AOL Instant Messenger, which extends the functionality of their online Buddy Lists and Instant Messaging to the web. The user base is huge: between the two, they list over 150,000,000 users.

The latest version of ICQ includes some very interesting new features, including file sharing. That's right. And the three main built in folders are led by one marked specifically for music. This is confusing to the public, because the public knows that AOL has sued Aimster for using a name similar to AOL, and for...file sharing.

How is it that AOL Time Warner, a company that has much to lose in its music divisions and record labels, could possibly give users the ability to disseminate copies of their music? It's actually all pretty simple, and one of the differences between Aimster and AOL/ICQ: scale.

Unlike Napster, or Aimster, or any of the Napster successors that are operating with impunity throughout the world, ICQ doesn't allow you to share with anyone that comes along. It's actually much more civilized, and exactly in line with comments by Hilary Rosen about real time, one-to-one sharing of your favorite music. In fact, you can't just grab MP3 files from people you don't know on ICQ - you have to be on their Buddy List, and you have to have permission to check out their music folder.

It's still not the same as making A tape for A friend of A song, but at least it's not wholesale piracy, and that is what is lost on most people who scratch their heads over the duality of AOL's approach.

The other instant messaging services, most notably Yahoo! and MSN, have yet to add this feature to their software. MSN Messenger's XP version adds some other nifty features you might want to look at for your on-air talent to play with: you can now make cell (as well as land line) calls with MSN Messenger across the Net - there may be a contest in there waiting to happen. But adding file sharing in the way ICQ has is the boldest change to happen to what has become the next killer app to the Net - instant messaging.

And AOL is perfectly positioned to take advantage of it. Are your talent on ICQ or AIM?

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