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open aimAOL has announced that they are finally opening up their AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) network for developers and 3rd party applications to fully utilize. While the company formerly launched its Open AIM initiative a couple years ago, this new Open AIM 2.0 movement actually appears to throw some weight behind the “open” in its title.

Whereas Open AIM 1.0 was simply about accessing AIM “presence” (your online status — ‘available’, ‘away’, etc…) and creating AIM client plug-ins, this new version will actually allow for popular 3rd party instant messaging applications such as Trillian, Adium and Pidgin to access the network without utilizing questionably legal bypasses. Web-based IM services such as Meebo and eBuddy will now also be able to access the AIM network legally according to TechCrunch.

To mark this Open AIM 2.0 launch, AOL has also announced a developer challenge in conjunction with the site TopCoder. Ending May 6, 2008, developers with the best AIM applications will have a chance at cash prizes — as well as plenty of t-shirts.

Despite all of AOL’s struggles in recent years, its AIM network has been one of the few bright spots, with millions of active users. That said, its AIM client has left a lot to be desired — which is certainly one of the reasons why services such as Trillian, Adium and Meebo have risen to prominence. Apple’s iChat application has long allowed for legal connections to the AIM network, and recently Google Talk within Gmail added the functionality as well. $1 billion investments, such as the one Google made in AOL in 2006, will grant you this kind of access.

Just as with news that AOL will be launching a dozen new sites this year to bolster their advertising (our coverage), they could soon utilize AIM as an ad platform for developers as well.

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