Gathering participants into a conference call or Web meeting may get a little easier, when America Online Inc. launches AIM Business Services this week; it lets users host or join conference calls and Web meetings through the AOL Instant Messenger interface.
The first services launched are AIM Voice Conferencing and AIM Web Meetings. They work only with AIM 5.5.
“A very large percentage of AIM sessions end in phone or voice conference,” says Edmund J. Fish, AOL senior vice-president and general manager of desktop messaging. AOL estimates that 14 million AIM users use AIM at work. Adding voice and Web conferencing to instant messaging provides “presence-aware services that leverage the network of AIM to enable at-work users to maximize the benefits of real-time communication,” Fish says.
The Voice Conferencing function is powered by Lightbridge and the Web Meetings component uses technology by WebEx.
AIM Voice Conferencing places conference calls through the AIM client. Buddy List contacts who are online automatically appear in the Call Roster; hosts click to issue invitations. Invited participants get an instant message with conference call details and a request for a contact phone number. Participants who supply the number receive a phone call within seconds. AIM users who are logged off or are out of the office can still join these teleconferences. Hosts can include them by telephoning them through the AIM Voice Conferencing interface. Even mobile phone users who activate AIM’s IM Forwarding feature can participate; these invitees get text messages with a toll-free call-in number and conference ID.
AIM Voice Conferencing is priced in per-participant, per-minute call units. Prices start at 120 call units for US$20, 300 call units for US$50, and 660 call units for US$100. Call units must be pre-purchased with a credit card and can be banked. They expire after 90 days unless additional minutes are purchased to keep the account active, according to AOL. AIM Voice Conferencing offers a “Double Your Minutes Free” promotion through July 23, 2004.
AIM Web Meetings uses a similar Call Roster interface to set up and initiate video conferencing via AIM. Invitees are asked to supply an e-mail address, and click on a Join Meeting button in the e-mail message to get the URL and meeting number necessary to attend the conference.
The AIM Web Meetings service is also priced on a per-participant, per-minute basis, charged to the host. Hosting a session costs US$0.33 per minute on weekdays and US$0.15 on weekends. Current WebEx subscribers can access their WebEx accounts through the AIM interface for no additional charge. Users registering for AIM Web Meetings through July 23, 2004 receive a promotional offer of 500 free minutes to be used within 30 days.
Weekend pricing suggests personal use, and that’s no coincidence. AOL and its partners expect these services will be used at home, although still primarily for business.
“The fundamental tools you use to communicate don’t need to change,” Fish says.
AIM users who install version 5.5 starting on June 10 will see a dialog box to enable AIM Business Services. Users already using 5.5 will get the same notice upon their 200th login since installing the software. With the user’s permission, AIM Business Services installs the AIM Communications Services toolbar in the AIM Buddy List.
AIM 5.5 users can also download the AIM Communications Services toolbar and install it as an auto-upgrade offered at the AIM at Work Web site. Users click the icons to launch the services.