Odigo, AOL fight over instant messaging connections

The instant messaging start-up and the online giant engage in an ongoing battle over AOL Instant Messenger, a focus of the FCC's review of AOL's planned merger with Time Warner.

Jim Hu Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Jim Hu
covers home broadband services and the Net's portal giants.
Jim Hu
3 min read
It's another game of cat-and-mouse between America Online and a rival instant messaging technology.

Start-up instant messaging firm Odigo and AOL have been engaged in an ongoing battle over AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). A day after Odigo announced that AOL had blocked its service from communicating with AIM users, the company today said it had regained interoperability. That means Odigo circumvented AOL's blockade and re-established a way for its customers to communicate with AIM Buddy Lists.

As previously reported, AOL's dominance of the instant messaging market is being investigated by the Federal Communications Commission as part of its review of AOL's planned $113 billion merger with Time Warner.

Instant messaging has been a contentious market. Technology companies allege that AOL has not kept up with its promises to help develop an instant messaging standard.

A formerly little-known technology, instant messaging has exploded in popularity recently. AOL recently boosted its AIM service to include 91 million registrants in its "Buddy List" network. AOL also owns ICQ, the second-most-popular instant messaging product, with 62.4 million registered users.

But shortly after Odigo's announcement this morning, AOL blocked the company again. In fact, the companies have gone through two rounds of blocking and connecting, putting the parties in a punching contest to see who will break first. As of this afternoon, Odigo is again interoperable with AIM.

"We'd rather stop fighting and start talking," said Avner Ronen, an Odigo founder. "But the thing is, they haven't returned any of our calls."

According to Ronen, Odigo can communicate with ICQ, another instant messaging service owned by AOL. Odigo has been interoperable with ICQ since January.

AOL spokeswoman Tricia Primrose reiterated recent statements about the company's policy toward unsolicited attempts by rivals to communicate with AIM users.

"Our policy is to block unauthorized access to our servers," Primrose said. "We will continue to block Odigo's efforts to access our servers to ensure the privacy and security of our members."

AOL's ongoing tussle with Odigo mirrors a similar fight last year with Microsoft. That battle was sparked when the software giant released its MSN Messenger service, which allowed customers to communicate with AIM Buddy Lists. But after a series of blocks and re-established access, Microsoft threw in the towel.

AOL has taken similar measures with online service Prodigy and Tribal Voice, which is owned by CMGI.

Puppet masters: Who controls the Net Instant messaging allows people to communicate in real time over the Internet. Most technologies produced by an array of companies are proprietary. But critics of AOL say the company should open its network to allow all technologies to communicate with one another.

Instant messaging rivals say AOL has not kept its promises to work toward an open standard for the technology, a claim that the online giant denies. Competitors want AOL to open its network of more than 91 million registered screen names. ICQ has 62 million registrations, making it the second-largest instant messaging service behind AIM.

Rivals have turned to federal regulators, asking them to examine instant messaging dominance when reviewing AOL's pending acquisition of Time Warner. The FCC yesterday said it sent a letter to AOL requesting information about its instant messaging services.

Net giants such as You've got Time WarnerYahoo are finding ways to establish their own standards. The portal is in discussions with companies including Microsoft and CMGI to create a group of interoperable technologies.

Odigo is also initiating discussions with other instant messaging companies to develop interoperability. But for now, the company's battle with AOL will continue until an accord is reached, Odigo's Ronen said.

"We really want to come into some sort of agreement with them that will provide our services with their users," he said.