It’s no surprise that AOL is getting around to adding VoIP capabilities to it’s AIM instant messenger product, but I was impressed to read that they’ll offer a free public phone number for incoming calls and voice mail as part of the service. To be called AIM Phoneline, the new service is expected to be available by the end of this month, and the business model seems to be to give away the incoming phone number and voice mail for free, and then make their money on outbound calling ($14.95 a month for unlimited calls to all local and long-distance numbers and 30 foreign countries). It’s interesting times in the telecom world as we see both the cost of outbound minutes and now inbound phone numbers rapidly approaching zero.
Cynthia Brumfield on IP Democracy points out that while this seems like a good idea, AOL really needs to shore up its sinking IM ship:
The company is losing AIM customers at a rapid clip (13% over the past year) and AOL’s subscription service, a big driver of AIM, is also sinking. Which is too bad, because these IM voice experiments could pay off for online portals and service providers. The IM-VoIP efforts won’t necessarily pay off in the short-term but IM-based voice could be the thin wedge that cracks open more robust VoIP options.
Alec Saunders highlights one feature of the upcoming service that hasn’t received much attention in the blogosphere yet, but which I think could be extremely useful, assigning a “reputation score” to AIM callers:
AIM callers will get a reputation score. Users can click to tell the system if a caller is, say, an annoying telemarketer. That telemarketer will get a bad rep, which will show up whenever that caller dials. You can then choose to ignore the call.