This past April, AOL began testing out a social toolbar for web sites, under the name of a lifestreaming service called Socialthing, which it acquired in 2008. The toolbar is now going through a rough transition into something else, although it’s not totally clear what’s happening. At least judging by the live test that AOL has been running on its country music site The Boot. The Socialthing name has been dropped (and some features broken) in favor of a new name: AIM Connect.
The Socialthing toolbar has let people sign in with AIM, ICQ or Bebo identities and chat with friends on that service without leaving the site hosting the toolbar. You could also see a stream of comments and activity from whatever site you were on, as well activities of your friends on other sites from around the web. It let you read and share information with other sites, similar to Meebo’s toolbar and more generally like Facebook’s, Digg’s and others. See my more in-depth look — I actually came away somewhat impressed.
But while the old toolbar offered a right-hand window that let you see your buddies’ activity on other sites, that feature now seems to be broken. It doesn’t actually show anything except very old and random updates from AIM — notice the identical chat in the old and new screenshots. On the left-hand side, a way to chat with other users on the same site is now gone. And, if you click on the AIM Connect button on the left-hand side, you get taken to an information page about the service, with almost identical content to the original Socialthing toolbar information page. I’ve never heard of AIM Connect before, and neither has my Google search, so I guess that’s the forthcoming name.
So, what we seem to have here is a product in a rough transition. The Boot gets more than 1 million users a month, according to Compete — although traffic has halved since the toolbar went live in March. Maybe its users don’t like having a half-broken feature being live-tested on their site? AOL, of course, is in the middle of going through a much more fundamental transition. Perhaps, as with chat service Userplane, the brokenness is a temporary aspect of new chief executive Tim Armstrong coming through, meeting the employees, booting executives, and figuring out the company’s long-term product strategy.
In the meantime, here’s what AOL tells me:
We are making some updates to the experience which are still underway. Stay tuned for some additional changes. As always we are committed to providing great products to consumers.