AOL Adds Free E-mail to IM Service
- By John K. Waters
AOL Instant Messenger users got a freebie this week: Web-based e-mail.
Now in beta in the U.S., AOL’s new AIM Mail service offers addresses
ending in AIM.com, and provides two gigabytes of storage per account. It also
includes spam and anti-virus protection, IMAP access for use with third-party
e-mail applications and an integrated user experience between the AIM service
and the user’s e-mail. And users will be able to “unsend”
a message sent to an AIM or AOL user until it has been opened.
Because it’s free, the Webmail service will be supported by banner ads,
The interface and the technology behind the new AIM Mail service are based
on technology from Mailblocks, a consumer Web-based e-mail service acquired
by AOL in July 2004.
AOL’s IM service is one the most popular in the country, accounting for
21.7 million active users (according to comScore Media Metrix). Approximately
1.38 billion instant messages are sent using the AIM service every day, according
to AOL. Many AIM account holders aren’t even paying members of the AOL
More than half those users (14 million, according to AOL) trade messages at
work. Earlier this year, AOL ramped up its corporate IM play by launching its
Enterprise Federation Partner program. Designed to link at-work users of its
free AIM service through a paid service tailored to business users, the program
offers certificate-based and encrypted access to the AOL Messaging Network,
including the AIM and ICQ services, as well as Netscape and Apple iChat users
But AOL is way behind rivals Yahoo and Hotmail on the free e-mail front; both
began offering free e-mail nearly a decade ago. Google premiered its Gmail service
more than a year ago.
AOL’s decision to link its new Webmail service to its established IM
service distinguishes the offering from its competitors’ programs.
AOL reportedly lost more than 5 million dial-up subscribers in the first quarter,
a loss that lowered its membership to 21.7 million. The company is now looking
to free, ad-supported services. AOL has offered Web mail service to subscribers
to its fee-based online service for several years. AOL’s Netscape unit
already offers a free Web mail service.
The new AIM Mail service is available now for beta testing to all AIM users
who visit www.aim.com.
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached