On Tuesday we reported on AIM's kind-of-sort-of-secret new video chat site. As of today, it's official, and it's just the beginning of a new direction for the hoary chat service.
We all use AIM. And yet we can also all agree it's a horrid, outdated user experience. Even AOL knows that, so it bought Thing Labs to make it not suck. So far so good.
"We landed at AIM and started looking at what we could do that's new and cool," says Jason Shellen, who previously ran both Google Reader and Blogger before starting Thing Labs. "We wanted to give AIM a real Web presence."
To that end the new AV by AIM runs right in the browser. Even better: it doesn't require any kind of dedicated account. There's no sign in, no need to know a screen name, or have everyone on the same service. All you need is an internet connection and a camera. The short URLs are designed to be shared on Twitter and Facebook. And while there's no random chat feature or directory listing, we're still pretty sure that people are going to use this to get naked.
So what happens to the old AIM? Shellen and team are in the process of remaking it for the Web and making it play nice with others
"This is our first web product, but AIM.com should be a place where we offer a decent set of tools," says Shellen. "We've made the decision we do want to open up and federate. We've opened up our XMPP gateway and we're doing true federation with a few partners." (AIM recently announced interoperability with both Google and Facebook.)
One big bummer? AV for AIM uses Flash video, so it's useless for the iPad or iPhone. Hopefully, that's going to change. "We're using Flash much like YouTube used Flash. We're already investigating other video technologies," says Shellen.
But for desktop video chat, it's pretty great. You can talk to up to three other people at once (four total), video can run in landscape or portrait mode, there's a text chat function in case you don't want to be audible, it's easy to boot people from a chat, and it's so dead simple even your parents will be able to use it. (I know, I already tried it with my mum.)
"Did you make this? It was really easy, and that's why I thought you made it," said my mum. "It said step one do this, and step two do that, and it puts a little arrow by what you need to do!"