- The internet's most popular chat service was temporarily quieted on Wednesday, as many users were unable to reach the free instant messaging (IM) service offered by America Online.
The Dulles, Virginia-based ISP confirmed that its AOL Instant Messenger service was unreachable to many users for part of yesterday.
"Due to an equipment glitch, some IM users were not able to access [the service]," says AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein. He adds that AOL wouldn't identify what specifically went wrong, other than to say it was a hardware problem.
A similar, though less widespread, problem caused Instant Messenger users to lose their connection last week as well, Weinstein confirms.
"The system is back up and fine, but there's a lot of people trying to log on," he says, responding to questions about the continued lack of connectivity for some users. He wouldn't say how many users were affected.
The service is free to anyone with an internet connection, and only earns revenue through the pop-up advertisements. AOL is fiercely protecting its customer base from interaction with other IM services such as Microsoft's MSN Messenger and Yahoo's Yahoo Messenger services.
AOL has the largest share of the IM market, with 21.5 million users, twice the number of its two largest competitors, Yahoo Messenger, with 10.6 million users, and MSN Messenger, with 10.3 million, according to New York-based Jupiter Media Metrix.
That even a short outage would be quickly noticed speaks to the depth of Instant Messenger's market penetration.
"This has a lot more business impact than [many corporate executives] realise," says David Smith, an analyst at Gartner Group in Stamford, Connecticut.
Companies often view the instant messaging service as a potential security breach, Smith says. For example, he adds, messages aren't encrypted. But Smith saysmore secure alternatives that would be suitable for business communications haven't been sufficiently developed thus far.