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iotum and the Open AIM Phoneline Developers Program

For the last few months, we at iotum have been working with AOL's Halifax voice development team, the group responsible for AIM Phoneline.  The fruits of that labour were unveiled today, as AOL announced their Open AIM Phoneline developers initiative.  Under "scary smart" VP Ragui Kamel's guidance, AOL is extending the idea of AIM Phoneline to include an ecosystem of development partners.  They are taking concrete steps to become the application centric service provider I wrote about yesterday.  Their announcement today  is about the release of three sets of APIs, and the initial three software development partners who have built products with those APIs.  The three APIs they released were focused on personalization, device enablement, and call management.  In addition, they announced the business model for software development partners wishing to participate in this program.  Vendors joining the program will have an opportunity to participate in an online storefront, with a revenue share flowing back to AOL from any transactions there. iotum, along with MyNumo and mVox, is one of those first three premier developer partners that AOL has announced today.  We'll be demoing our service, integrated with AIM Phoneline and AIM presence, in the AOL booth at VON next week.  When this service goes live to the public later this year, iotum will be one of the first add-on services you can buy with AIM Phoneline. Our offer? For the AIM Phoneline customer, Iotum will offer services that help customers differentiate between which calls are important, and which can wait, based on their relevance to the customer. Iotum will then find you, wherever you are, and send the call there. Some AIM Phoneline users use it as a second line to run a home-based business. Iotum can help prioritize important customer calls, and send those calls to a cell phone, if the business owner is off site. Other AIM Phoneline users use AIM Phoneline as a second line to screen calls from sales people, or pesky dates. Iotum can help prioritize those calls by sending them automatically to voice mail, when you’re not willing to chat right now. The bottom line is that if you’re an AIM Phoneline user, and you have a need to be reachable by important folks in your life, or a need to preserve privacy from others, iotum can help. We're super excited by this opportunity for three reasons: First, naturally, is being able to provide services to 43 million AIM users. Working with AOL helps us grow our market by opening up a new audience that we hitherto haven’t been able to reach. As Mark Evans noted, this is our opportunity to target iotum to a significant audience, which we haven't been able to do until today.  Second, turning AIM Phoneline into a platform means that, as developers, iotum doesn’t need to worry about a lot of the details associated with providing a service. For instance, we do not need to worry about negotiating terminations or provisioning phone numbers, because AOL has taken care of those details for us. It’s easier for us to get to market, and we can focus on making our service the best service it can be. And finally, third, AOL will help us to promote our services to the AIM community by providing a store front where AIM users can purchase services from iotum, and by promoting that store front from the AIM client. From where I sit, this is a classic "a rising tide floats all boats" play for us. The relationship we've been building with AOL has extended over a period of a year now, starting with an introduction to Ragui at about this time last year.  As Jeff Pulver noted this morning, this relationship is a prime example of how the VON ecosystem that he's been nurturing for so many years works, and works well.    One of the best parts about this experience has been working with the AOL team.  During our initial contacts with the Halifax engineering team, it became clear that in order for us to implement some of the features in iotum, we would have to make some changes in our respective products.  In doing so, our engineers have helped with the specification of the AIM Phoneline call control APIs, as we mutually determined the best to integrate iotum, and by extension, other products needing call control capabilities with AIM Phoneline.   That's enormously satisfying for us, and that flexibility is the mark of a great developer program.  Our contacts with the business people have been no less satisfying.  We found AOL to be an easy, responsive vendor to work with. They understand that successful platform programs provide developers with great tools, a meaningfully large market for the developers products, and promotional opportunities to monetize the developers efforts. They've delivered in spades. Many thanks to the teams in Halifax and Virginia who helped bring this together, and kudos to Ragui Kamel for the vision and guidance that have led to this launch. More from Mathew Ingram, Jim CourtneyBruce Stewart, Andrew Hansen, Andy Abramson (here and here), James Enck, and WebProNews. UPDATE: Here's another great post from PhoneBoy.  Among the many things he says is:

What struck me about this is that AOL sees their place in the ecosystem–as plumbing. They've got a relatively open telephony platform where third parties will be able to develop their own solutions and not have to worry about "the plumbing." The fact they were willing to work with third party companies like iotum so closely suggests they are far more open than Skype, which still doesn't have a call transfer API despite what I'm sure has been constant nagging by iotum and others. Alec tells me "these guys get it."

I'm not sure he's quite right that AOL sees their place as plumbing.  I rather suspect that they have application plans of their own.  However, the fact that they're willing to open up their plumbing to others is exceptio

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  • Peter Childs September 7, 2006, 9:27 am

    Congratulations – that’s great for Iotum and ultimately for the AOL AIM users that use the service.

  • Rick September 7, 2006, 10:29 am

    Awesome. AOL is a very friendly partner; not so concerned about personal greed as a true ecosystem.

  • Voip Commentor September 7, 2006, 1:09 pm

    AIM Phoneline's ecosystem is a very good idea.

    Unfortunately, I doubt iotum will get anywhere as a paid service with the AIM audience. AIM users just don't pay for things, especially for niche products for the niche audience that really needs sophisticated forwarding. The service would be a lot more interesting if it were free, since AIM is all about free, since then at least some people would play with it.

    There's also the issue about when AIM Phoneline will actually get 43 million subscribers. Those people are there to instant message, not to make or recieve phone calls. Rumor has it that the service is growing quickly, but it took Skype several years to build a meaningful audience, and it's going to take AIM a similar amount of time to get people to think of AIM as a phone.

    Definitely interesting to see what happens, but it'll be a very big surprise if iotum gets over 500 subscribers by the end of 2007.

  • Andrew September 7, 2006, 2:07 pm

    I disagree Voip Commentator. The vast majority of AOL users in the US pay for AOL internet access and up until recently for AOL (how I understand it). If just a small percentage of them are SOHO's (which I believe they are) an enhanced messaging and forwarding platform like Iotum is a no brainer. What are the other options? Skype's VM is piss poor (and hasn't been updated at at all) Vonage doesn't have a hosted business solution, and any hosted PBX solutions are really expensive (with the exception of Versature, another Iotum partner – caveat you have to buy a rather pricey IP phone), If Iotum can provide a tool set for the SOHO crowd that is functional and can actually replicate an advanced PBX solution with software and a few USB peripherals, they have a great shot at being adopted. I would use it.

  • VOIPCommentor September 8, 2006, 12:32 pm

    A common thing startups come into VCs and say is this: "there's a big market and if we get just 1% to try our cool new thing, it'll be a huge success."

    They're usually quickly shown the door.

    The reason is that the "big market" is often much smaller than the startups think, and they wind up with 1% of their real market.

    For iotum, their real market is the AIM Phoneline users, who are also SOHO, and who find that a standalone AIM Phoneline does not meet their needs. Be generous and assume that you get 2-3m people on free or paid AIM Phoneline, looking out a year or two, which would be a significant accomplishment for something new to the mainstream like online voicemail or online calling – that's a 5% penetration or so of AIM/AOL users. Of those, likely 10-15% are actually SOHO, which gives you 200-300k as your real target market for iotum.

    Now apply the 1%, which is the early adopters in that crowd who will actually be interested, the ones that really are using AIM Phoneline heavily for their business, the ones that really have a problem that intelligent call forwarding might be able to solve, and the ones who will open their wallets and pay. You get 2-3k. And that assumes you'll get the 1% from having a small presence in a "storefront" that only some of the audience will ever visit even once. Remember, AOL itself only got a reported 2k subscribers on it's own TotalTalk service despite having some real marketing muscle to apply to it.

    Don't get me wrong. I like iotum's little application, but it's a big mistake to assume that AIM Phoneline is what will magically turn them into a mainstream success.

  • Rick September 8, 2006, 1:54 pm

    It's a great start. iotum won't get one iotum if they do nothing. This could be a snowball effect, like viral marketing. I suppose Skype started with less.

  • Andrew September 10, 2006, 10:06 am

    "A common thing startups come into VCs and say is this: “there’s a big market and if we get just 1% to try our cool new thing, it’ll be a huge success.” " I said that not the guys @ Iotum, but in fairness your statement is very true.

    The real beauty of this relationship isn't the fact that Iotum is marketing to the AOL customer base, it is the fact that the solution is extensible, based on standards and provides a platform for Voice. This (as far as I am aware) doesn't exist yet, it is a first. AOL truly gets it, and has the money and resources to keep partners around while they ramp up, they aren't a start up, and I have an inkling they won't compete, or allow partners to fail in the short term.

  • joyce mcbride October 1, 2006, 6:13 pm

    can you help me? i tried to get aim phone and i guess somehow my seperated husband was signed in because when i put my information in and finished it it gave me his email not mine to where my messages would go. i have looked everywhere on aim for help with this and really want to get it fixed.thank you, Joyce Mcbride

  • Alec October 2, 2006, 2:02 pm

    Hi Joyce,

    This isn't an AIM Phoneline support site, and I am probably not the best person to help with your question. I recommend you go to http://www.aimphoneline.com, and check for their support people.

    Thanks – Alec.