Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Using Gmail to Chat With AIM Buddies

Over a year ago, Google bought a piece of AOL. Now in a brilliant move and convenient step towards taking over the online world... Google Talk users can use the Gmail client to chat with their AOL-based buddies.

(Full disclosure: My partner is a software engineer on this project at Google's Kirkland, Wash. office.)

While not perfect, it's a step towards bringing all instant messaging clients together into one big, happy family.

I'm something of a power-user: the 17" screen on my laptop provides extra screen real estate, it seems, simply to handle the growing number of messengers I have running at any given time. With AOL's "Instant Messenger", Microsoft's "MSN Messenger" (err, "Windows Live... uhh, I forgot already"), Google Talk (I prefer a flavour known as the "Google Talk Gadget"), Yahoo! Messenger -- nevermind IM and instant messenger applications from various online and social networking sites. Keeping up with all the flashing windows can be something of a challenge.

MSN Messenger (insert current brand-name-du-jour) and Yahoo have previously allowed synergy between contacts -- though I confess I haven’t quite figured out how. While the Google-AOL partnership is currently only one-way (AIM client users aren't yet able to add Gtalk contacts), I'm happy to be able to drop my simultaneously open IM clients by one.

Not so fast.

Before I bury my AOL Instant Messenger client I'll need to wait until the service is added to the Google Apps platform, a move that will apparently happen in the coming weeks.

If you’re a Gmail user, however, and chat within the Gmail client (using the built-in chat box) – you’ve been upgraded. Look for the “Sign in to AIM” option in the dropdown under your name. Add your AIM login details (the feature requires a separate AOL Instant Messenger account) and your AIM buddies will appear alongside your Google Talk contacts.

Perhaps someday instant messaging will become ubiquitous – much like email – allowing anyone to talk to anyone regardless of which network they are using.

Baby steps … baby steps.

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