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AOL embraces Twitter, Facebook with AIM Lifestream

Multiple-platform suite will let people read and write updates for several social-networking services via AOL's instant messenger.

AOL's instant messenger, AIM, becomes on Tuesday the AIM Lifestream and gets support for modern social services Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Flickr, and Delicious.

A multiple-platform suite of products being announced at the TechCrunch50 event will support the service.

In addition to instant messaging, AIM Lifestream will display updates from the social feeds mentioned above and, likewise, enable people to post back to the services. The suite of products, including mobile clients, Mac and Windows desktop apps, and a Web client, will launch on September 22. The current Lifestream Web site shows the development of the project so far. The finished version will bring instant messages into the mix.

The iPhone app for AIM Lifestream is available now, however, because the Apple approval process went much faster than AOL expected, said David Liu, AOL's senior vice president of global messaging. (You'll get AIM Lifestream when you download the paid AIM client for the iPhone.)

I tried the iPhone app. It's a decent combo client, although I found it much better for instant messaging than for Twitter or Facebook. While it is really nice to be able to get social network items and IMs in one client, you don't get the full visibility and control over your social accounts as you do in a full-featured client like the iPhone app Tweetdeck for Twitter, or Facebook's own app for Facebook. But if you're not a heavy user of the other services, the AIM Lifestream client is certainly servicable, and it's nice to be able to update your AIM status and other sites with just one message.

I've got Twitter and Facebook in my iPhone AIM client. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Liu said that the mobile clients are key to the AIM strategy and that geolocation features will be rolling out. Already, the iPhone client will report your location (if you let it) to your friends. In the future, Liu told me, you'll be able to see what your friends have said about places near you. Another big part of the Lifestream strategy is AIM's e-mail service. You'll be able to use your new AOL e-mail to read and reply to all the same messages you get in your AIM clients.

Finally, AIM won't be the only IM platform supported. ICQ support is coming soon. Also coming, I was told, is support for other IM networks. Liu wouldn't say which but claimed that AOL is "having discussions" with the big platforms. That would include Yahoo and Microsoft, as well as Facebook. The Google IM system is is open. Skype support would be a neat trick; I don't expect it.

AIM Lifestream will end up being a powerful social client due to the sheer number of AIM users who will upgrade from the older version of AIM. And while it's a great product for AIM power users, I don't think it's a good option yet for people whose online social lives revolve around other networks. In my case, for example, I'll continue to spend time in Twitter-centric clients like Tweetdeck and Seesmic Desktop, because that's where my people are. And there's no way AIM is going to pry my wife away from the full Facebook experience.

Even so, AIM Lifestream is a good direction for AOL and I am looking forward to see how this new strategy evolves.