NEW YORK - Users of America Online Inc.'s instant messaging service can now automatically see from Microsoft Corp.'s popular Outlook e-mail application whether their friends and colleagues are online.
A free tool AOL is offering beginning Monday integrates "buddy list" information from AOL Instant Messenger with Outlook.
When you receive an e-mail from an AIM member who is online, a yellow "running man" logo appears in the "from" line next to the e-mail address. If you believe a quick chat session might be more appropriate in reply than a series of further e-mails back and forth, clicking on the logo launches the AIM software for you.
"The way communications has evolved over the last couple of years... different communications types are appropriate for different contexts," said Chamath Palihapitiya, AOL's general manager for instant messaging.
Added Steve Jones, a professor of communications at the University of Illinois at Chicago, "Some conversations are just easier in real time, and some are a little more difficult in real time."
He said instant messaging might not make sense when contacting people in different time zones or when needing to do research first to get an answer.
Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp. do offer limited integration of instant messaging with other services they run. For instance, when using Microsoft's Hotmail, users can see when those on their MSN Messenger buddy lists are online. Yahoo also integrates its buddy information with mail, photos, games and other features.
But neither is as widespread as Outlook in corporate America.
The new offering represents the further evolution of "presence," the technology powering buddy lists for online instant messaging services.
Ultimately, presence will let you tell others whether you are busy at the moment, are in a bad mood or prefer to receive e-mail over phone calls. But for now, the presence information will help you decide between sending an e-mail or an instant message.
Users need to configure little after downloading the Outlook plug-in developed for AOL by Intellisync Corp.
The tool, available at AIM.com, will comb through your Outlook address book and match your e-mail addresses with the corresponding AIM screen names that AOL has based on information collected during the AIM registration process. You can also add screen names manually.
AOL also announced deals to have similar buddy list information integrated with third-party Web sites. With Thomson Financial, for instance, brokers and sellers will be able to negotiate in real-time through instant messaging. At CareerBuilder.com, prospective employers can contact job seekers instantly.