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AOL blocks AT&T instant messaging

December 9, 1999
Web posted at: 4:28 p.m. EST (2128 GMT)

by Carolyn Duffy Marsan

Network World Fusion

(IDG) -- America Online apparently doesn't want to be buddies with AT&T WorldNet. The Dulles, Va., ISP is blocking instant messaging traffic between users of its popular Instant Messenger software and the latest version of AT&T's I M Here Service, which has just launched this week.

The flap between AOL and AT&T could be a step backward for instant messaging standardization efforts, according to industry observers who say interoperability is required for corporations to adopt the application on a widespread basis.


"It just amazes me that AOL can be so intransigent," says David Strom, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based industry analyst. "AOL's Instant Messenger is the industry standard. It's used by millions of people . . . It would be in their best interest to see that everyone else adopts their instant messaging standards. All they're doing by blocking traffic is encouraging people to have their own instant messaging clients."

With more than 37 million users, AOL Instant Messenger is the leading software for communicating in real time with individuals who are also online.

AOL Instant Messenger users can perceive when people on their buddy lists are online and can chat with them instantaneously.

AOL's decision to block instant messaging traffic from AT&T's I M Here Service seems to be a reversal of earlier statements on interoperability.

In July, AOL blocked communications from Microsoft's MSN Messenger Service. After much criticism from the Internet community, AOL announced that it would work closely with the Internet Engineering Task Force to develop an instant messaging standard. AOL also created an advisory committee on instant messaging standards that includes top executives of Novell, RealNetworks and Apple.

An AOL spokeswoman did not return calls for this story.

The latest version of AT&T's I M Here Service - which is powered by Tribal Voice's PowWow technology - allows users to maintain one buddy list and have real-time chats with users of AOL Instant Messenger and Microsoft's MSN Messenger Service. Interoperability with instant messaging users of AltaVista and Freeserve plc will be added soon, AT&T officials say.

"The Internet should allow open, easy and instant online communication among everyone," says Ed Chatlos, AT&T WorldNet Service vice president and general manager. "We are giving our members the ability to send messages anytime to anyone from their one-and-only buddy list. The Internet is no place for artificial communications boundaries."

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Version 3.9 of AT&T I M Here Service worked with AOL Instant Messenger for about five hours on Wednesday morning, but AOL began blocking the traffic at about 1 p.m. EST, Tribal Voice officials say.

"We used the protocols and source code that was published on AOL's Web site," says Beth Nagengast, instant messaging product manager at Tribal Voice. "We looked at the documentation on the Web site, and we believe we are in full compliance. We tried to contact AOL [about our product plans], but they did not return any of our phone calls or e-mails."

Nagengast says Tribal Voice has not yet talked to AOL officials about why the company has chosen to block AT&T's I M Here Service. "We will do everything we can to publish a fix, so AT&T users can continue to communicate with AOL users," she adds.

"It looks as if AOL has put a technical block in place that is not allowing the IM Here product to register with AOL's Instant Messenger buddy servers, but we need to verify that."

Nagengast says AT&AT I M Here Service is working fine with MSN Messenger. "Microsoft disclosed its protocols to us and worked with us [on interoperability]," she says. "We had no cooperation from AOL."

Carolyn Duffy Marsan is a senior editor for Network World.

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AT&T's I M Here press release
America Online, Inc.
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