Companies such as Odigo already let people using their messaging products communicate with users of ICQ, one of AOL's instant messaging services. But Odigo is taking a step further into the fray: The New York-based company has introduced a software plug-in that melds Odigo and ICQ into one product.
"This lets our users find other ICQ users," said Avner Ronen, one of Odigo's founders. "This is the way we envision interoperability working."
The company plans to introduce more plug-ins that will perform the same functions with other instant messaging services. Ronen would not comment on which products it plans to target, but he hinted that two plug-ins will be released within the next two months.
AOL declined to comment on matters concerning Odigo or other start-ups.
Instant messaging has been heralded as one of the most popular online communications technologies since email. The services allow people to send real-time electronic messages to others who use the same product. AOL runs two of the most popular products, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and ICQ, and it has introduced voice-chat capabilities in both services.
But some companies have tried to pry open AIM's doors. Companies such as Microsoft, AT&T, Prodigy Communications and CMGI's iCast have launched their own instant messaging products that allowed their members to communicate with AIM users. These companies say that AOL should open its network to allow all instant messaging technologies to communicate with one another.
AOL, however, has repeatedly blocked rivals' efforts to tap AIM's 91 million registered users. The company has said that these efforts are "hacks" into its servers and has justified its actions as a safety measure for its customers.
The debate has continued intensfied, entering the public realm. Yesterday, iCast and instant messaging company Tribal Voice filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission asking regulators to consider AOL's dominance in the sector as part of their examination of AOL's proposed merger with Time Warner. The filing alleged that AOL has not lived up to its promise of pursuing a standard allowing all instant messaging products to communicate with one another.
Smaller companies such as Odigo are targeting ICQ to push interoperability. Last week, Sweden-based My Solutions launched software dubbed MyCQ, which lets people simultaneously log on to different instant messaging products and communicate through them in one interface.
Odigo's Ronen hopes to form an alliance with companies that provide similar products to put the heat on AOL to open its network. He was frank with his expectations.
"Odigo will be interoperable with AOL," he said.