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IM Rivals Ask FCC To "Encourage" AOL To Open Its Network

By evro in News
Tue Apr 25, 2000 at 03:50:45 PM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)

From the C|NET article: '"Allowing AOL to merge with Time Warner will only increase its ability to dominate and restrict consumers' freedom of choice in instant messaging," Margaret Heffernan, iCast chief executive, said in a statement.'

My initial reaction upon reading this was, "how can they tell them what to do with their software? All the clients are freely downloadable!" Then I realized this was MS's argument for why bundling IE wasn't against the law. I mean, AOL IM is bundled with Netscape now. I'm still inclined to side with AOL however. I don't understand why they don't make ICQ compatible with IM, however, since they own them both. Why shouldn't they be allowed to have a proprietary network? Downloading a 3 MB IM client from another company isn't really a problem. While I think an open standard would be preferable, I still feel that the FCC shouldn't have any say in this. How are they discouraging competition? I guess I just don't see it.

This case seems to me to be one of "big bad corporation won't give us its stuff!" and a small company looking for a handout from the government.


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IM Rivals Ask FCC To "Encourage" AOL To Open Its Network | 17 comments (17 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
They have to support an infastructu... (3.00 / 1) (#10)
by JumpSuit Boy on Tue Apr 25, 2000 at 01:55:02 PM EST

JumpSuit Boy voted 1 on this story.

They have to support an infastructure to make it run so it is unlike IE in that way.
The Director disavows any knowledge of the preceding comment.

What I really hate about AIM is tha... (4.00 / 1) (#4)
by fluffy grue on Tue Apr 25, 2000 at 01:57:57 PM EST

fluffy grue voted -1 on this story.

What I really hate about AIM is that they bundle it with just about EVERYTHING... Netscape, RealPlayer, and just about every other piece of Windows software I've purchased or downloaded within the last year (which isn't that much, mind you). There's apparently no way to not install this bundled software, and so there's 10 billion separate versions of AIM installed, none of which I use. Talk about saturation. :P

However, I agree. The FCC doesn't and shouldn't have anything to do with software, among other things, although a lot of people seem to think they control it or something (first evidenced by the prominent reference to the FCC in the classic "Good Times" massive chain-forward where "an FCC spokesman" says what the "virus" will "do"). Now, the FTC, on the other hand, might have something to do with the regulatory practices of this predatory anti-competitive sniping.

Unfortunately, I have to vote -1 on this article, because the mainpage writeup is really crappy. Sorry.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]

You're right. AOL's and Microsoft'... (1.00 / 1) (#5)
by eann on Tue Apr 25, 2000 at 02:02:02 PM EST

eann voted 1 on this story.

You're right. AOL's and Microsoft's arguments are essentially the same: so what if it's bundled? We're not stopping you from downloading your own. We just want to share this great new technology with our customers. It's ours, we invented it, why can't we do what we want with it?

The chief argument against that position is that AOL and MS are far and away the dominant companies in the respective areas (especially since AOL bought ICQ), and it really is extremely difficult (read: anticompetitive) for any company (even MS, in this case) to break into a tight market like that. Nobody can say "Well, yeah, sure, 35 million people are using that old program, but you really want this one, don't you?" and ever expect to get more than a trickle of interest.

Are messaging clients really a market? You bet. Anything that holds any user's attention for any length of time is a market. Rifkin or not, that's the way things work these days. My sister worked for AOL for awhile, and they wouldn't actually let them use ICQ on company computers, either (actual exchange: "Why not?" "You just can't."), although they're allowed to provide customer support via IM. If I had to guess, I'd say they're keeping them separate deliberately, just to prevent (most) people from noticing that they really do have a monopoly.

I can put aside my general queasiness about MS to agree with them on this one. AOL is violating the spirit of the free market and abusing their monopoly position by deliberately keeping IM closed.

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men. —MLK

$email =~ s/0/o/; # The K5 cabal is out to get you.

Re: You're right. AOL's and Microsoft'... (none / 0) (#13)
by pope nihil on Tue Apr 25, 2000 at 06:17:50 PM EST

what i can't stand is having to install bundled software to install the program i want. certain microsoft programs require you to install the latest version of IE or Outlook Express even if you have no desire to use those programs. Netscape/AIM is the same way. you have to go to extra work to NOT use their software.

I voted.

[ Parent ]
Re: You're right. AOL's and Microsoft'... (none / 0) (#14)
by bmetzler on Tue Apr 25, 2000 at 07:37:06 PM EST

AOL's and Microsoft's arguments are essentially the same: so what if it's bundled?

Actually, it's quite different. Remember, the anti-trust case wasn't about bundling, it was about MS forcing OEM's to either foller their demands or pay higher licensing fees. If Microsoft would have offered a better browser then Netscape, at a better value, and OEM's choose to use it, then there wouldn't have been a trial. However, when OEM's didn't choose IE, and Microsoft then felt the need to force OEM's to use IE, then it violated anti-trust law. Okay, with that premise, back to what AOL is doing.

AOL owns 2 IM services. They provide the infrastructure that makes the services possible. This would be like what Federal Express or UPS do. They provide the infrastructure to get packages from one point to the other. Now, when people talk about 'opening' their network, they aren't talking about documenting protocol's or anything like that so that other companies can set up their own network. This would be akin to UPS documenting their shipping procedure so that other shipping companies can copy it. I repeat though, this is not what CMGI's iCast and Tribal Voice are demanding.

No, what CMGI's iCast and Tribal Voice are demanding would be like me setting up an office, collecting shipping fees from customers, and then expecting UPS to pick up the parcels, and ship them at no cost to me. Sounds like a promising business model, right? Well, when I sue UPS for refusing to 'open' their network, I'm going to be laughed out of court. In the retail world, if you want to do business in the name of another company, you'd start a franchise. You then pay the company a fee for the use or their name, and applicable services. I couldn't open a McDonald's and expect to get all the inventory supplied by McDonald's Corp for free, and pocket all the profits, so why should they expect AOL to do so?

There is something similar to this in the software market. It is called 'licensing'. If someone wants to use a service or product that another company owns, they'll go to that company and sign a licensing agreement which will outline the terms and what will be paid for the use of that product or service. A fine example of this is Windows. I don't hear anyone saying that Microsoft should 'open' Windows to "prevent its ability to dominate and restrict consumers' freedom of choice in operating systems." No, when a company wants to preload Windows, they'll sign a licensing agreement with Microsoft.

AOL does the same thing. If you want to use there IM service, then you can license the use of the service from AOL. In fact, the article even mentions several companies who have done just that. "AOL has opened its service to outside providers, including IBM, Novell, Lycos, EarthLink, Apple Computer and Juno Online Services, through licensing agreements."

So, as a conclusion to this rant, I have just one thing to say to companies who want AOL to 'open' their network. Quit whining, and go sign on the dotted line. No one else expects to get something for free, so why should you? Thank you.

www.bmetzler.org - it's not just a personal weblog, it's so much more.
[ Parent ]
I'm on AOL's side too here, oddly e... (none / 0) (#1)
by rusty on Tue Apr 25, 2000 at 02:02:21 PM EST

rusty voted 1 on this story.

I'm on AOL's side too here, oddly enough. I mean, this is just silly. There have been any number of chat protocols and systems in widespread use-- it seems like the "dominant" one changes every year and a half or so. You know why AOL owns instant messaging? Because IM is a damn good product, and because they bought ICQ, which was the other damn good product. It's not very hard to suddenly get millions of people using your chat client. Just make it significantly better, and give everyone a reason to switch. I don't think getting the FCC involved here is a wise move for anyone. And before anyone else brings up the anti-trust case, this is just a totally different ball of fish. If I was more coherent right now, I'd explain why, but as I'm not more coherent (note that I just used the phrase "ball of fish". I rest my case), that'll have to be left as an exersize for the reader. :-)

Not the real rusty

AIM is evil. ... (2.50 / 2) (#9)
by Paradox on Tue Apr 25, 2000 at 02:21:53 PM EST

Paradox voted 1 on this story.

AIM is evil. What the world needs is a distributed system for instant messaging, something like gnutella and freenet. It would be possible if multicast was really universal. Too bad. Until then we have to deal with centralized schemes where people can control us.
Dave "Paradox" Fayram

print print join q( ), split(q,q,,reverse qq;#qsti
qq)\;qlre;.q.pqevolqiqdog.);#1 reason to grin at Perl
print "\n";

Jabber (none / 0) (#16)
by mattc on Wed Apr 26, 2000 at 01:03:16 AM EST

You might want to check out Jabber. It is a fairly decentralized protocol... It works similar to email where there are several jabber servers and you give out your address in a form like yourname@server.com. You would normally use a jabber server set up at your ISP or some other provider, but of course you could also set up a server on your home machine.

Furthermore, the Jabber server can translate between the different instant messaging protocols, so, for example, you could talk to your ICQ friend using Jabber. On your 'buddy list' AOL, Yahoo, ICQ would all appear the same.

It looks like a cool protocol to me, but I've got to admit I haven't got into the "IM" craze. Everyone I talk to still uses IRC :-)

[ Parent ]

there is a lot of potentially *very... (none / 0) (#7)
by dlc on Tue Apr 25, 2000 at 02:51:38 PM EST

dlc voted 1 on this story.

there is a lot of potentially *very* interesting discussion to be had on the topic of IM, compatibility between protocols, and a number of other related issues. Post it!


I see nothing wrong with iCast, Tri... (none / 0) (#2)
by techt on Tue Apr 25, 2000 at 02:56:25 PM EST

techt voted 1 on this story.

I see nothing wrong with iCast, Tribal Voice, and/or others desiring interoperability with the standard (or better yet all) instant messaging software. Such would be better for the users of IM clients. However, in cases where the use or opening up of the technology to others will increase the cost burden on the maintainer of the network or service, those who wish to utilize it should be required to pay their portion for their fair useage -- should that be money, services, general up-keep, etc. Now, I'm not suggesting the cost should automatically be diverted to the end-users. It would be up to the individual companies who wish to be included to pay and decide for themselves how to raise the required resources. (If they should decided to have their users pay, so be it. The users will merely go elsewhere where they will not have to pay.) And, I should hope, the interoperability of the different IM softwares should be opened in both directions if any are opened at all.

As for the FCC's involvement I have no coherent opinion at this time. I would like to see what other's opinions and reasons for them are, though.
Proud member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation!
Are You? http://www.eff.org/support/joineff.html

If we don't trust Microsoft, why sh... (none / 0) (#6)
by marlowe on Tue Apr 25, 2000 at 03:15:21 PM EST

marlowe voted 1 on this story.

If we don't trust Microsoft, why should we trust AOL?
-- The Americans are the Jews of the 21st century. Only we won't go as quietly to the gas chambers. --

These are the same people who proba... (none / 0) (#3)
by bmetzler on Tue Apr 25, 2000 at 03:32:25 PM EST

bmetzler voted 1 on this story.

These are the same people who probably think that Microsoft "innovates". Look, if a company wants to support AIM, why don't they just go to AOL and license it. AOL shouldn't be forced to freely support every other company, just because they are the most popular.
www.bmetzler.org - it's not just a personal weblog, it's so much more.

The restrictions AOL is imposing pr... (none / 0) (#8)
by cthulhu on Tue Apr 25, 2000 at 03:50:45 PM EST

cthulhu voted 1 on this story.

The restrictions AOL is imposing present an artificial barrier to entry into the market. Users want to communicate with their colleagues and friends. If most of their friends are on ICQ or AIM, then there is little incentive for them to use another service, despite the fact that the other service may provide a faster service and a better client.

Why should AOL be able to tell their users who they can and can't talk to?

Re: The restrictions AOL is imposing pr... (none / 0) (#11)
by evro on Tue Apr 25, 2000 at 05:06:07 PM EST

i don't think it's a matter of aol telling anybody "who they can talk to" but rather what language they have to speak. but there's nothing stopping anybody from downloading aim.
"Asking me who to follow -- don't ask me, I don't know!"
[ Parent ]
AOL is fine, there's more than one way to skin a c (5.00 / 1) (#12)
by FlinkDelDinky on Tue Apr 25, 2000 at 05:16:16 PM EST

First off, I tend toward the Libertarian perspective. AOL is doing nothing wrong from that perspective alone (but some of you aren't of my political bias, which is fine). They also have an infrastructure to maintain.

However as a Linux user and GPL worshiper I'd like all internet protocols open. Open standards, open source, open for use to anybody.

As I haven't seen this link mentioned I'll mention it now. Basically it's a gpl IM protocol. I don't use IM so I don't keep up with it but maybe one of you could look into it and do a write up or interview the developers.

I think we should pay attention to this subject since AOL may be underfire even though they don't seem to be doing anything wrong. So somebody who's heavy into IM do a feature on Jabber.

Looking forward to jabber (none / 0) (#15)
by Demona on Tue Apr 25, 2000 at 09:33:44 PM EST

The 'mainstreamers' of the net (Katz would call them the corporatizers) are attempting to move toward more of a centralized net, while the majority of early adopter protocols, applications and users indicate that the future is going the other way. If gnutella is the answer to napster, then jabber is the answer to ICQ -- decentralized, peer to peer, "everyone a (potential) server". The advantages? Fewer infrastructure and liability "issues", greater control over one's privacy and capabilities, and (with open source) less dependence on others. More power to you.

[ Parent ]
not as bad as Microsoft (none / 0) (#17)
by winsk on Wed Apr 26, 2000 at 05:33:03 PM EST

Come on guys, just because millions of people use IM doesn't mean AOL is as bad as Microsoft. Sure, I don't really like either company very much- but you have to draw the line somewhere about what you call a monopoly. Just because IM is really popular doesn't mean anybody is forced to use it. Alternative messaging clients do exist, and it's not like AOL tries to pass IM off as an integral part of the operating system that ships with most new PCs or anything.

IM Rivals Ask FCC To "Encourage" AOL To Open Its Network | 17 comments (17 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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