AOL Time Warner and Lotus Development are furthering tests to link their instant messaging systems, but neither company is willing to tip its hand about how the services could be leveraged into moneymakers for future corporate use.
The two companies have agreed to an IM interoperability trial between AOLs Instant Messenger service and Lotus Sametime.
"AOL is committed to achieving IM interoperability in a way that protects consumers system performance, privacy and security, and this trial will help us understand technically how IM interoperability might work," Donn Davis, president of AOL Interactive Properties, said last week.
The companies agreed in 1999 to let users of their systems chat, but exchanges required the use of both systems protocols. The latest trial will test a new standard that will connect the two companies servers directly.
The Federal Communications Commission is watching AOLs moves, since interoperability with at least one other IM system was a prerequisite for its approving the megamerger with Time Warner. Negotiations on connecting AOLs and Microsofts IM broke down earlier this summer as the companies became estranged over market dominance issues.
Free IM services from AOL, Lotus, MSN and Yahoo! are enjoying rapid growth among consumers and enterprise users. The question is how that popularity might someday translate into dollars. AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said the company has no plans to enter the corporate market directly or charge for the service.
Jeremy Dies, Lotus offerings manager, would not comment directly on the issue. "We are analyzing all the market opportunities," Dies said.
AOL is the IM leader, with 27.3 million users in July, followed by MSN with 20 million users. Yahoo! has 14 million monthly users, and Lotus has 2.7 million users, according to IDC.