I've been going back and forth on deciding whether to include the recent WebEx/AOL partnership story on my Webinar Success industry news page and whether to bring it up in this blog. Is the news about web conferencing? It's a little hard to tell at this point. Although the story got picked up by a surprisingly large number of online news portals, the details are pretty sketchy and this is just a "statement of direction" announcement. As far as I can tell from the press, this is really a venture to spice up AOL's Instant Messenger (AIM) service with a fancier front-end, while offering some abilities to share slides and do some other primitive webcasting through the AIM interface. I don't know if I count that as real web conferencing (it certainly doesn't seem to fit the model for interactive one-to-many webinars). WebEx must not see it as a competitor to its full-featured enterprise technology either, since they wouldn't do anything to harm that market. So this is a niche application that may get more people comfortable with the concept of using the internet to share information. AOL likes it because it gives them an entry into the big-money enterprise business market. WebEx likes it because it gives them an entry into the much larger consumer and small/home business market.
So far, the use of Instant Messenger services as a launching pad for webcasts and web conferences has been fairly weak and mostly ignored. It will be interesting to see if this latest venture changes that picture at all.