This morning, AOL executive Jason Shellen sent a company-wide e-mail urging employees to test AV by AIM, a new web-based video chat service for the company’s instant messaging client.

TechCrunch, a subsidiary of the company, was not included as an original recipient. But that didn’t stop the publication from obtaining and publishing a copy of the e-mail, announcing what was previously meant to be tested only internally by its parent company.

The service, which originates from its AOL Instant Messaging (AIM) division, offers a unique twist on web-based video chat: Instead of chatting to strangers as with Chatroullete, or setting up accounts as with Skype or Google Talk, users simply start a video-chat and share the link with potential participants. As they visit the link, participants are automatically added to the video chat.

Having tested the service, it seems to offer a neat and simple solution to what can be a frustrating experience — setting up a group video chat. While Apple’s FaceTime also looks to avoid similar complexities of maintaining an account and adding recipients, its limitations to Apple-based products and tie-ups to the iPhone’s contact list can be daunting. AV’s approach is simpler in execution and more accessible to general computer users who might not be carrying Apple products or phones and tablets in general.

In the e-mail, Shellen, who is AOL’s head of AIM products, stated that AV is “the first of several substantial new AIM launches and the first to represent our shift in focus to better web software.”

From the company whose instant messenger is still one of the most widely used but hasn’t changed in many years, it’s a worthy step forward. And to its subsidiary, and our competitor TechCrunch, we extend a hat-tip and a fist-bump.

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