On the AIM Bots Mini-Brouhaha

In my first act of post-acquisition, self-censorship I passed on commenting on the folks who are reportedly making a bid for a piece of AOL. My thinking was it just wasn’t worth the trouble. If I said “Party A offers X and Y, and Party B only offers Z…” I know there would be 200 blogs posts and three MSM stories in 48 hours saying “AOL execs prefer Party A over Party B.” In truth, I see the good in working with both parties… but everyone knows I prefer Party B. 🙂

aim bots Anyway, I feel like I want to comment on the AIM Botssituation” that raised some eyebrows over the past couple of weeks. If people want to quote/misquote me about this issue I’m not too worried about it since this is a) a product feature and b) how we do business as a company. I’m part of this company now, and people are asking me what I think about what we’re doing. They should all know how I feel, and we should know how you folks feel. Transparency is a good thing and the people at AOL–especially those folks in the trenches–really want to open up how we do business even more.

Huge disclaimer: I don’t know anyone on the AIM team well (yet!) and I don’t have any real inside info on AIM. These are just my observations as a 15 year+ user of AIM!

What happened: AOL added two “AIM Bots” to people’s AIM instant messenger last week. One was called MovieFone and one was called ShoppingBuddy, and they were dumped right at the top of everyone’s buddy list–including folks on AIM-compatible instant messengers (i.e. Mac users). These bots are automated agents that will be performing certain tasks for you quickly, without you having to launch a browser. For example on MovieFone you type the name of a movie then your zip code and it brings you back a set of movie times. On ShoppingBuddy you type a product name and it brings you back a list of prices.

What we did wrong: The main issues: a) the buddies were added without user permission, b) we interrupted people’s day with a popup window about them, and c) they were dumped at the top of the IM list. Now, I *already* have an AOL Bots category on my AIM with AOLJournals on it, and I don’t think I added it myself. Now I have a *second* folder called AIM Bots with two other Bots in it. I like to keep my AIM list nice and clean, and AOL is messing it up! I don’t want clutter in my AIM! If you’re going to start adding buddies for me at least put them in one folder and dump them all the way at the bottom. We should let people fall in love with these Bots OVER TIME, and if they do the users will choose to put them higher up on their list. In this case we (AOL) were like “these are cool, and they are so cool we’re going to force them down your throat!” We should have been like “hey, psssst… you… check out these cool things all the way on the bottom of you list. Kind of neat huh?!?” We don’t need to slam folks with these–they are valuable! Let them rise and fall on their own merit.

What we did right: We created a kick ass, valuable feature! These bots are really cool. It’s much quicker to ping the AIM Bot than to hit a web page, and I wish I had one for News, Search, Blog Search, Music/Music Videos, and Sports. Imagine I could type in Knicks and get back the next five games, the last five games, the current score, photos, etc.

What should we do next: 1. We should add bots to this service automatically, but put the folder at the bottom. Let people move it up if *they* want to move it up. We shouldn’t dictate who people’s friends are–they should. 2. We should create an API so folks can create their own AIM Bots (we don’t have that already right? AIM Bots is a closed platform right?). For example, I’d love to make an Engadget or Flickr Bot that would send me updates on those services. How about an iTunes plugin that alerted me when my Podcasts were downloaded? I know AIM is building in a lot of new features, but we should really let the world build on this wonderful platform. [ Note: I know that there have been hacks to AIM to do this for a long time, but I think we should make this an open platform… we haven’t done that already have we? If I want to create and official Engadget bot for AIM what do I need to do? ]

What do you think about the AIM bots and how we deployed them?
How would you release these services to the AIM community?
Anyone from the AIM team out there want to comment on the situation?
What AIM bots would you like to see next?

What people are saying (positive on the product, negative on the marketing):

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