Instant messaging vendors are fighting to differentiate their products to avoid seeing them turn into commodities that all look and feel the same.
While rivals of America Online have pushed the Federal Communications Commission to require the AIM client to be interoperable with others as part of its merger with Time Warner, the competitors are also scurrying to add features to their messengers.
Many have integrated voice capabilities and content to clients that, until recently, were used only to send messages faster than e-mail.
The ability to talk through a messenger is particularly interesting to AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo! because it represents another revenue source. AOL charges a penny per minute for domestic PC-to-phone calls placed through its messengers. Rates for international calls vary, as they do on Microsofts messenger. Yahoo! will launch an international service as well, a company representative said.
Though the messenger voice services will likely continue to be comparable, its clear rivals of AOL are worried content never will be once AOL acquires Time Warners massive entertainment library and cable systems. Microsoft and AT&T are asking the FCC to force AOL to become interoperable with other messengers, and to include conditions about "advanced IM," which they described as "any IM services that AOL offers over advanced broadband infrastructure of Time Warners cable system."
AOL has told the FCC "concerns about a possible future marketplace for advanced IM services . . . remain matters of unsupported, and at best premature, speculation."