It leaked last week but it’s public now: AOL has decided to dip another toe in the online video chat world with AOL AV, a new beta video chat system based on Adobe Flash that doesn’t require any registration or download to use. Users just get their own personal chat link from AOL AV, send it around to the people they want to chat with, and presto! Instant video conference. AOL AV can handle video chats with up to four people at once, and the originator of a chat can both invite and remove other people. The system supports audio and video, along with text-based chat for easy sharing of links and other material.
The goal behind AOL AV seems to be taking the pain out of setting up and conducting video chats. In order to participate in a standard video chat, all users need an appropriate account on an appropriate service—whether that be Skype, MSN, Yahoo, AIM, Apple’s iChat, or what-have-you—and have to go through all the rigamarole of making sure they have the right software and versions, know everyone’s user IDs, and more. With AOL AV, setting up a chat is as simple as copying a link and sending it around to friends via email, Twitter, IM, or any other mechanism: no signups or software downloads required.
AOL AV relies on Adobe Flash 10.3, which means it only supports relatively recent browsers (Safari 5, Mozilla Firefox 3+, Chrome 9+, Internet Explorer 7+). Relying on Flash means the service also won’t run on devices like Apple’s iPhone and iPad that eschew Flash, and requiring Flash 10.3 means some users on older systems (like PowerPC Macs) can’t use AOL AV either. AOL says it is looking into making mobile versions of AOL AV, and plans to add additional features to the service in the coming weeks.
So far, AOL has not monetized the service: and with no sign-in requirements, it’s hard to see how they could make people pay for it. Instead, if AOL AV takes off with users, look for the company to start running advertising with AOL AV services.