AOL's newest plan to get their chat on

Sun and Java. Apple and QuickTime. AOL and instant messaging. It’s a mixed blessing when a company’s most-interesting assets don’t come with a ready-made windfall.

AOL claims that about 40% of Americans from age 14 to 24 use AOL Instant Messenger (a.k.a. “AIM”). They say that 2.3 billion messages a day are sent through their systems — 1.6 billion through AIM and 760 million through ICQ.

Wow. That’s over 25,000 messages a second, folks.

(Speaking of ICQ, AOL acquired them in 1998. You’d think that an ailing company would be careful about redundancy, but nearly five years later ICQ effectively operates as a separate entity with a separate web site, separate servers, and separate client software for several operating systems in several languages. The way that ICQ’s integration into AOL’s business remains half-finished is probably helpful for understanding how well AOL has a handle on costs.)

So, AOL has an amazingly popular service that they can’t possibly be breaking even on with ad revenue. The question investors are asking is, “now what?” AOL’s new senior management (unlike that pesky old senior management?) says that they have an answer.

…it is no surprise that America Online’s new senior management, led by chief executive Jonathan F. Miller, has focused on IM, as it is known, as a powerful tool with the potential to provide the company with the fresh revenue needed to restore growth.

First, AOL will “attack” (the article’s word) the corporate marketplace. As one example of of the attack, AOL will be allowing Hewlett-Packard to devise new IM features to meet the specific needs of individual businesses.

Personally, I’m not sure how long The World will allow AOL to tell them what they can and can’t do with chat. Once technologies become commodities, standards always win. If AOL continues to play chicken with standards rather than drive them (although it’s probably too late for that), they’re going to turn around one day to discover that everyone’s happily chatting without them.