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iChat and AIM

Tom Coates talks about iChat and some improvements he'd like to see made. First he talks about how iChat lacks groups (something I use in Adium and simply require of an AIM client), and how iChat might manage groups with different windows. He goes on to say…

… then I started thinking about the other effects that could have - what if each window handled login information separately? What if each one used the inbuilt AIM buddy-blocking system on-the-fly so you could spontaneously decide to disappear from the world of your work colleagues while staying online with all your friends and family. Or the other way around? It's surely just an interface tweak?

Frankly, I'd prefer not to necessarily have to block buddies, and appear offline, but instead to have different away messages for each group. When working, I could set the status for my work group to "available" and for my "friends" group to "Working: interrupt only if very important." I could create "sets" of away messages to quickly switch between "Working" and "On Lunch Break" and "Home for the Evening" and "Watching a Movie." Support for outright appearing offline would be welcome as well, so that when you're home your work buddies don't see you.

Unfortunately, without separate AIM accounts (one for each group, basically), this is impossible. Tom's idea, with blocking, is possible. My idea? Not possible. The current AIM spec doesn't allow for it. This got me thinking: what incentive does AOL have for increasing the capabiliies, speed, and standards of its AIM protocol.

Apple gave them some money, I would imagine, and they added support for addresses. (An interesting aside: who authenticates your password if you use an address to sign on to iChat? If AOL does, well, I don't think I like that too much: I'm fine trusting Apple with my .Mac password, but now I'm trusting AOL too?) Unless Apple (or someone else) wanted to add this feature, and paid AOL some more money, why would AOL update its software?

AOL has long "forced" people to, if they want to get all of the features of AIM (file transfer, buddy icons, viewing away messages, etc.), use its OSCAR protocol. The OSCAR protocol has been, traditionally, limited to AOL-official AIM clients, though some people have worked to keep up with AOL's efforts to block third-party apps from OSCAR. The other protocol, TOC, which clients like Adium (my preferred client) use, is crippled. I can't send files, I can't view away messages or see buddy icons, and so on.

Thus, the only incentive AOL has to upgrade their protocol is to get people to use their software. When people are using their software, they can be forced to view advertisements (ad-removing hacks aside) and do other things: how many people would object to receiving an unblockable IM advertisement for every 100 outgoing IMs if the other features provided were wonderful?

Unfortunately, AOL is a bit hamstrung by the decision that they have a monopology on IM, and must open up their network the next time they upgrade their service. Does this mean we'll never see an upgrade to AIM?

Frankly, I wish Jabber would take off. Unfortunately, it's not got critical mass. I won't switch to Jabber because nobody I know uses Jabber. Everyone is on AIM, after all, or they wouldn't be the court-decided monopoly, would they? There is so much that instant messaging could do. Greed, incompetence, and legalities are getting in the way of that. Go figure.


16 Responses to "iChat and AIM"

  1. Hm, IM is just one of these things I never got into, probably because no one I know really uses it. We're getting along fine using just mails and the phone. We've tried switching to various IM clients, but always ended up just mailing or calling after a few days.

    Is that the first technological revolution that will pass me by because of my old age? (27) 🙂

  2. No, Baumi, I don't think your age has anything to do with it :-). Personally, I've never liked using IM for the same reasons I hate talking on the phone. I just find it intrusive. I guess I would say that, with the exception of face-to-face, I prefer asynchronous modes of communication.

  3. Everyone is on AIM, after all, [...]

    Hmm, most of the few people I know who use IM at all are still (?) on ICQ... (so I'm bound to Fire, but that's ok; I like it and right now I'm only a frequent IM user myself)! %-)

  4. Erik - you know somebody who's on Jabber: me (

    I'm using Fire, and I'm on ICQ, AIM, yahoo and Jabber. Nearly everybody from my country uses ICQ (and/or MSN, but I don't care about that network), so thinking that AIM is the only important network is very US-centric - not taking into account that those are basically the same network nowadays.

    Personally I like Jabber very much, probably because it's XML-based and as open as possible (b/c there's no "official" client).

    There are gateways to other networks available for Jabber (e.g. I can chat with people on ICQ via, that's still not possible in AIM/ICQ.

    Oh, and Fire's support for Jabber isn't very good - it likes to drop messages for some reason. Maybe I'll write a nice Cocoa client at some time.

  5. Blah. I'm going to say that ICQ owns all =/

    I don't know much about Jabber. I downloaded a windows client and it sure seemed weird.

  6. Heh, you wish it was just an interface tweak. the ability to support multiple away messages and invisibility statuses for different groups necessitates an entirely new data structure to be added to AIM, that is, statuses to IDs goes from one-to-one to many-to-one.

    And the database is the least of the problems, dealing with servers that haven't been rewritten one fourth as often as the clients have been.

    That said, I'd love this feature, too.

  7. I agree with kevin that it would be difficult etc, but it would ROCK!. That said, I was a long time and early adopter of icq (think 5 digit icq number), but as I struggled to stay on icq, more and more people moved to aim. The reasons behind this are a few. ICQ spam. If you stayed on icq, you would constantly be bombarded with spam of all sorts. Feature parity. The mac client sucked. It hasn't had feature parity for a number of years now. In fact, I don't think the feature set of the current client is even close to that of the pc client of 3 years ago.

    Also, I should mention that TOC 2 (version 2 of the TOC protocol) should have more of the features of OSCAR including away messages and buddy icons. File XFer I think is in there as well. There is a spec online, but it's hidden away and is difficult to find. I have a copy somewhere on my computer, and I'll look for it.

    I too use adium, mainly because fire was crashy when I stopped using it. Proteus is shareware. After I started using adium, I realized all of the nice features (the tabbed message window is a brilliant idea).

    As far as interoperability between services goes, I think that's important, but it's never going to happen. Mainly because that involves too many protocol and backend changes. Also to note is AOL now sells their AIM Server for corporate networks so that you can have a aim network inside your corporation and people would sign on with addresses. Since reading the specs about this software, I believe that Apple does the authentication for iChat and addresses.

  8. hi

    i'm new to ichat , and i can't find any discussion or chat to go to...can somebody help me ?

  9. interoperability unlikely

    Did you know that AOL's network for Instant Messaging (AIM), which iChat talks with, has been deemed a monopoly? Next time AOL upgrads AIM they'll have to make it interoperable with other networks. So they're not going to upgrade it....

  10. Melina, I'm assuming you're looking for some type of chat room or something to go to?

    That's not how iChat works, iChat is an Instant Messaging client, it requires that you know the username of a buddy to contact (you can contact any other iChat (.mac) or AOL/AIM users).

    If you don't already have a buddy list, start asking your friends for their AOL/AIM/.Mac usernames and you can chat with them.

    It is possible to create multi-person chat rooms, but nothing anonymous like "Thirty and dirty" or "Forty and sporty" that other iChat users will be able to find and join.

    If you're looking for chat (like singles chat, or sci-fi chat) either go to a web site that has a chat room, or stick to services like AOL and MSN that have community chat rooms.

    Good luck--and if you're looking for love email nude pictures of yourself to

  11. hey,well some one give me their username then! p.s username for ichat AIM or what ever it is!

    luv vicki


  13. supp wiggers

  14. Yeah hi, I was wondering if I have to pay some fee or something in order to just get ichat for AIM??? or to work with aim whatever. I dont want the whole video or even audio adhancements. i just want the ichat to upgrade my AIM? aNYbody understand what im asking please help me out by emailing or replying here!!



  15. I want an ichat file but im only 15 and I don't have a credit card i don't see why people even have to pay for things with a credit card anyway.

  16. yeahh I am very into aim, I have microsoft windows vista. I really love everything about it. Except I think it would be nice to have something like ichat. I love how they're speach bubble where the Im shows up. 🙂 Hopefully they come out with something like that someday.