AOL buys maker of Web-based chat tools

/ Source: The Associated Press

AOL has purchased a developer of Web-based chat and other communications technologies as the company seeks to expand the reach of its popular AIM instant-messaging service and its ad-supported offerings like video clips.

Dating sites, chat services and other communities now using Userplane technology will have the option of integrating their users with AOL Instant Messenger. That means an AIM user would be able to contact a Userplane user directly, something not currently possible.

AOL's purchase of Userplane, announced Monday, also gives AOL the ability to lure the startup's users to its news articles, video clips and other content, just as it now does with AIM users.

That is important as AOL seeks to boost visits and thus advertising revenues to offset expected declines as it drops subscription fees for millions of high-speed users. Analysts have pointed to AOL's leverage of AIM and video as key to making its new strategy work.

AOL, already the leader in instant messaging, also can ultimately adopt some of Userplane's technology into AIM, although a key feature, the ability to conduct instant messaging over the Web without needing to install a separate program, already is available through

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Userplane, the operating name for Totekasche Holdings Inc., will become a subsidiary of AOL LLC, which is a unit of Time Warner Inc. The startup's 12 employees will remain in Southern California, though they may likely move to AOL's existing offices in Santa Monica, Calif.

AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said most of Userplane's existing customers, which include News Corp.'s and IGN; and Friendster Inc., won't be affected. The exceptions, he said, are porn, gambling and other sites that violate AOL's policies.

Userplane now powers about 100,000 Web sites and online communities, each with a wide-ranging number of users.

The purchase of Userplane, which closed last week, follows acquisitions of video ad company Lightningcast Inc. in May and video search company Truveo Inc. in January.