AOL decided to build up the bot program after the success of a number of test bots, including one for the syndicated game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" The bot allows AOL subscribers to use AIM to participate in the show remotely, said Brian Curry, senior director for AIM network services at AOL.
"We announced a new program that has more facets, more pricing options, and we are now starting to actively promote it," he said.
The bots would not randomly target AIM subscribers to send unwanted junk e-mail, Curry said. Subscribers have to opt into these marketing campaigns if they are interested in receiving the information. AOL is "very sensitive" to subscriber concerns about receiving unwanted e-mail, he said.
The bots might provide information on newly released films, popular television shows, fashions or whatever the users personal interest might be, Curry said.
But once they opt in, AIM subscribers also would have the option of linking the bots to their buddy lists, which would further extend the reach of the campaigns. Enterprise AIM customers would be able to target bots to their employees or business partners over the AIM network, AOL officials said.
Other test bot programs include marketing and informational campaigns by Nike, New Line Cinema, The Wall Street Journal and others, Curry said. With the success of these programs, AOL decided to launch a full-scale program to help corporations develop marketing campaigns targeted at AIM users, Curry said.
AOL is working with six third-party companies providing supporting technology or services for the bot program. These include FaceTime Communications Inc., IMLogic Inc., Macromedia Inc. and Akonix Systems Inc., which are providing development tools to support the creation of bot applications, Curry said.
The other two companies, Conversagent Inc. and InfiniteAgent Inc., are providing design and development services along with hosting services to support the robot program, he said. These services would be particularly valuable to companies that dont have an online presence but want to deploy a bot designed to acquire new customers or retain existing customers through the AIM network, AOL officials said.
"We are trying to make it easier than ever for people to develop and deploy bots on the AIM system," Curry said.
Besides using business-to-consumer advertising and entertainment bots, enterprises could develop business-to-business bots for sales force automation and CRM (customer relationship management) applications.
For example, a developer could create a bot that automatically updates AOL subscribers on the status of overnight package deliveries. Marketers who want to work with the AIM Bot Program would work with one of AOLs five Certified Application Partners to develop and deploy bots.
AOL in August certified FaceTime Communications RTMatrix, a developer tool kit for building instant message access to ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications, Web portals and Web conferencing systems.
FaceTime, based in Foster City, Calif., will ship RTMatrix with sample bots, sample code snippets and a software development kit with full documentation, said Christopher Dean, senior vice president of business development at FaceTime.
AOL customers will be able to use IMLogics IM Linkage package to build AIM bots for marketing and customer service applications.