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AOL plays nice, pays developers

Hard lesson

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Remember AOL and the "walled garden"? Today, when you meet what used to be the world's number one, and rather standoffish, consumer internet service provider they are talking about working with others and not re-inventing the wheel.

In early 2008, AOL will focus on the company's recent commitments to support Google's OpenSocial, on top of the FaceBook platform, as well as Apple's iPhone and Google's Android mobile platform.

"Social networking and mobile are really hot" Edwin Aoki, one of AOL's chief architects, told The Register. Aoki also has high hopes for the company's upcoming unified advertising system codenamed "Platform A".

The work will help AOL make money from opening up its various web properties to mashups, but - possibly more importantly to everybody else outside AOL - promises to better reward developers that use the AOL network.

A first step in that direction was taken by AOL subsidiary Userplane in June this year, when it announced an ad revenue-sharing program, called Money, and that uses PayPal to pay developers who build on its communication platform.

AOL has been busy building out its outreach program since March of last year, providing developers with resources and tools, from simple embedded HTML code to web APIs to full SDKs.

What first started with AOL's instant messenger service now features most of the company's online assets including AOL's email service, AOL video, community platform Userplane, video search engine Truveo, Mapquest and even multimedia client Winamp.

Thousands of web sites are now flocking into AOL's network, including MySpace and Friendster that integrate Userplane's communication tools or MSN Live and Cnet video services powered by Truveo.

Not everything has worked out: AOL failed to impose its own microformat and ModuleT. "Yahoo Pipes works great with our services and there's really no need for us to start yet another integration environment for the mashup community," admits Aoki.

"Our goal is to extend the reach of our services and networks. Inspite of being a large consumer company, we can't reach out to all the communities. And through our developer program, companies use our tools to bring functionality to their audience that would otherwise not be using our network", Aoki said.

Commenting on the difference between AOL today and at the dawn of this decade, Aoki said: "In the old world, you would either use AOL or our competitors. Now, it's not anymore an either/or circumstance. What we've done within the [AOL] products organization is made a mission of every person in that team, as they're building out products for consumers, to make sure that there is a compelling set of APIs and services for the developer community as well."®

Jean-Baptiste Su is editor in chief of Uberpulse.com, and co-founder and US bureau chief of The French News Agency.

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