First, here's the Flickr screenshot of AOL's new AIM Pages (with more detail from PaidContent via TechCrunch). It's very nice looking and a lot cleaner than the very awkward MySpace profile formatting.
In fact, AOL had one of the first "social networks" with the AIM Buddy List but the company didn't really understand what it had. It took the rise of social networking and MySpace in particular to wake AOL up to the potential and the necessity of doing something like this.
To answer the question “why will people use this?” The central differentiator here, as many reports have mentioned, is the free phone line. Users will be able to receive free inbound phone calls together with voicemail and email/sms notification. But there's an upsell to "AIM Phoneline Unlimited" for $14.95 per month (including international calling). It's quite possible that this free inbound line with the low-priced outbound calling capability will drive meaningful adoption of VoIP in the US. However, it remains to be seen.
Lots of articles have speculated about the AOL vs. MySpace consumer dimension of AIM Pages. In a way AOL was compelled by market opportunity but also competition to do something like this. While it's the dominant IM platform, AIM's lead has slipped. And MySpace, at least for as long as it’s the “it site,” threatens to slowly siphon AIM’s youthful user base.
What I think is potentially very interesting and haven't yet seen anyone talk about is the hypothetical small business dimension of this. You've now seen me point to several articles recently about how small businesses are setting up profiles on MySpace as a free marketing tool.
AIM Pages is essentially a free hosted site/landing page and the free phone line is a tracking number. There’s also “presence management” and other features that would make this a very interesting marketing vehicle for small businesses. For example, you could essentially run a search campaign off AIM Pages and then track calls generated by that campaign – all for free (except for the paid-search part of course).
AOL could modify the template to make it a bit more “professional” and/or create a range of vertical templates customizable by industry. Voila! AOL becomes a small business Web host. Businesses could add photos and even potentially add video to these pages (if video were to be supported). Alternatively, these or other enhancements, including PPCall, could be advertising upsells.
Depending on adoption by SMEs, AOL could potentially build very rich consumer-oriented local search and directory products on top of these pages, as well as B2B groups/networks. There are a range of monetization scenarios there. AOL would also potentially become an SME channel that others might want to tap.
The problem is that most small businesses won’t immediately recognize the possibilities here; they’ll have to be educated. (I’m not completely sure that AOL recognizes the potential opportunity on this side of the equation either given how focused it is on the consumer experience.)
Notwithstanding the opportunity surrounding consumer adoption, I think there’s a real and potentially much more interesting opportunity associated with small business advertiser adoption and the products and services that can be built to support and monetize that.