AOL said on Monday it planned to let software and service developers create their own versions of its AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), which analysts said was a significant move for a company that has traditionally cordoned off its services.
The online division of media conglomerate Time Warner Inc will begin providing developers with software toolkits with which they can begin enhancing and creating instant messaging services of their own.
"It's a dramatic turnaround for AOL," said Joe Wilcox, an analyst at Jupiter Research, who called the move shrewd and well timed.
AOL is "opening up to other companies, some of whom can create products to compete with AIM", he added.
Communicating by typing messages, making phone calls or video-calls and the ability to see if recipients are online at the same time are seen as integral to successful future versions of Internet services, analysts said.
Tapping into a network of global developers could help AOL gain an edge over rival Microsoft Corp.
"The next wave of opportunities will come as a result of allowing developers to innovate," Kevin Conroy, executive vice president of AOL Media Networks, said in an interview.
AIM, whose services reach some 63 million users, is seen by the company as a critical component to enable it to play a larger role in the social networking market, where users meet new people through existing contacts.
"AIM is the original social network," Conroy said. "We're looking for ways for consumers to be able to extend their social networks via an already popular platform."
MySpace.com, a music-based social network that News Corp. purchased for $580 million, is one of the best known and has grown to become the most popular one among teenagers and young adults. It has about 56 million users, the company says.