As the FTC blessed the union of AOL (dossier) and Time Warner (TWX) last week, subject to requirements it open up its cable lines to rivals, attention shifted to the FCC. On Saturday the Washington Post ran a story by Alec Klein that was based on anonymous sources. Mr. and Ms. No-Name saw the "inch-thick document" prepared by FCC staff for the full commission and said that the document recommends the deal be approved - but only if AOL makes its instant-messaging service interoperable with at least one other provider.
On Monday, CNET's Jim Hu reported that Bill Gates had telephoned the FCC chairman late last week on the instant-messaging issue. The bulk of Hu's story recaps the IM wars of the last two years, in which AOL has repeatedly blocked attempts by other IM vendors to communicate with its own AIM users. No one speculated on when the FCC might act on the merger.
Taking a different angle on instant messaging, CNET's Ben Charny reported that the file-swapping project Aimster plans to issue a release this week that could muddy the FCC's deliberations. Aimster lets users swap music and other files with their chat buddies, and Thursday's release will let users of AOL's two distinct IM communities - AIM and ICQ - connect for the first time, CNET reported. Further, Charny quoted Aimster's Johnny Deep saying that the company is testing links to Yahoo (YHOO) and MSN chat systems. According to Charny, a source at AOL "scoffed at the claims that the new release can actually link different platforms." "That's not sharing," the reporter quoted.
The Los Angeles Times' P.J. Huffstutter turned in a lengthy analysis of Aimster's history, promise and perils. Huffstutter noted that Aimster is "not an incorporated company but rather a project being developed by a loose coalition of software developers" that sprang from the Gnutella release last spring by an unruly group of developers within AOL. According to Huffstutter, Aimster enjoys a curious immunity from the hostility and scrutiny being directed at Napster. AOL tolerates Aimster, and the fact that AOL is the newest member of the RIAA could make any action by the recording industry awkward at best. - Keith Dawson
FCC May Open IM to Rivals
Gates Urges FCC to Address Instant Messaging Dominance
Aimster Sets Sights on MSN, Yahoo
File-Swapping Aimster Offers Promise, Peril
Los Angeles Times