VON - AOL dials up developers for VOIP service

AOL is opening up to external developers its AIM Phoneline VOIP service.

AOL will open up AIM Phoneline to external developers to let them create hardware devices and software applications for this Internet telephony service.

AOL will give developers access to the AIM Phoneline platform via APIs (application programming interfaces), the Dulles, Virginia, Web portal said Thursday.

AOL, a subsidiary of Time Warner, will make the APIs generally available in this year's fourth quarter, but it will show devices and applications built with the APIs at next week's Fall 2006 VON Conference in Boston.

The move is part of a larger trend at AOL and among Internet companies in general to enrich their online services with add-ins, applications and devices created by external developers.

Companies like AOL, Google, Yahoo and Amazon.com realize they benefit from tapping into the creativity of external developers, be they individuals or corporate programmers.

The resulting applications, often called mash-ups, extend online services in ways and directions that the Internet companies may not have considered or may lack the resources to explore.

For AIM Phoneline, which is the VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) service of AOL's AIM instant messaging service, the hope is that device manufacturers and voice application developers will use the APIs to build new hardware peripherals and software features.

AOL plans to introduce three APIs in the fourth quarter to let developers create ring tones for AIM Phoneline, let cordless phones function with AIM Phoneline and build call management features for the service.

Iotum has been working with the APIs for several months and will show a service for managing incoming calls to AIM Phoneline at next week's conference. Using what it calls a "relevance engine," Iotum's service determines the importance of an incoming call and routes it accordingly. For example, if the call is deemed important, Iotum may forward it to the user's cell phone, and if the call is unimportant, Iotum may send it directly into voicemail.

"It's a service that helps customers differentiate between calls that can wait and ones that are more urgent. It knows what you're doing, who is trying to reach you and whether it's an appropriate time for you to take that call," said Alec Saunders, Iotum's chief executive officer.

Iotum hasn't established a price for its service, which will be billed on a recurring, monthly basis and whose revenue the company will share with AOL, Saunders said. "We've had a superb experience with AOL. They've been very easy and responsive to work with," he said.

Along with the APIs, AOL is formally launching the Open AIM Phoneline initiative, an outreach program for external developers interested in extending the service.

The program includes a competition for developers called the Open AIM Phoneline Developers' Challenge. AOL will accept AIM Phoneline applications between Sept. 11 and Nov. 30. The winners will be announced in January 2007. The first-place winner will receive US$3,500, while US$1,000 will be awarded for second place. More information will be posted here.

The Open AIM Phoneline program will also have an online store featuring applications and devices built by external developers.

AIM has about 43 million users in the U.S. AIM Phoneline, launched in May, offers AIM users a free phone number, free online voicemail and unlimited incoming calls. For outbound calling, AOL offers a plan for US$9.95 a month for calls to the U.S., Canada and 30 other countries.

AIM Phoneline competes in a crowded market for Internet telephony that also includes services from eBay's Skype, Vonage Holdings, Yahoo and AT&T.

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