Software Engineer’s Lament

I have been writing code, albeit not always well, since I was in 1st grade.  There are things that we get right (AIM plugins and modules) and some we don’t (AIM Triton).  It funny sometimes to step inside the world of developers in other industries to realize that they have some great successes and failures.

As someone who has owned just about every version of Madden football and basketball game through the years, an article on ESPN caught my attention where Pat Hruby went through his own personal pet peeves of every sports video game ever made.  It is amazing how good sports video games have gotten over the years, but its still not a perfect world.  At the end of the article, a software engineer laments on a recent game play experience he had, with his own game.

“The other day, I’m playing [against the Lakers], up one with 30 seconds to go,” says a basketball game developer. “The CPU fouls me, sends me to the line. Why would it do that? Play out the clock, get the ball, call timeout, take the last shot. Anyway, I make the free throws. The AI rushes the ball up the court, shoots as quickly as it can with Pau Gasol. And it’s an 18-footer. I get the ball and win.”

The developer sighs. He’s talking about his game. And it makes him crazy.

“For the past five years, we’ve set aside time to make sure the AI makes the right decisions at the end of the game. But either our engineers are stupid or our designers are stupid or I’m stupid, because we still haven’t gotten it right.”

I know the feeling.  Perfection takes time and a little luck along the way.

AIM Express 7 Beta 4

Hot out of the oven, we just posted AIM Express 7 Beta 4.  Here is the list of changes:

  • Test out the new character counter when you IM a mobile buddy or number in your Buddy List
  • Express yourself with spankin’ new Emoticons that display in your IM window
  • Rollover your Buddy to see their screen name, buddy icon, and status message with a quick glance
  • Use the new sound icon to toggle your alerts on/off

The client was built using Flash, so make sure you have the latest version of Flash 9.  The client also takes advantage of the OpenAIM ActionScript3 library, otherwise known as wimas3.  As always we appreciate the feedback, so make sure you share it with us.

The Art of Niche

Last year at W3C I gave a talk about how monolithic social networks would give way to more niche networks for a multitude of reasons.  I got a lot of strange looks that day, but in the 14 months since that talk, some evidence is popping up that niche networks and websites will gain more importance to both users and developers.

Late last week AOL launched a new, and some are calling a “super niche” site, for PC gamers,  This site will provide PC gamers downloads and the latest gaming news.  We have launched many niche sites over the past year, and have more to come later this year.

These niche sites obviously are more attractive to not just users, since it gives them specific information they are looking for, but also advertisers since they can reach and target a specific audience.

AIM is leading the pack of downloads on the AppStore

As I mentioned earlier today, we launched AIM for the iPhone in the Apple AppStore.  This evening TechCrunch posted the top 10 download apps list and AIM comes in at number 2 with over 12K downloads.  The number 1 app is Remote, which was written by Apple to control your iTunes and Apple TV.  I firmly believe real-time messaging applications will be huge on this phone because of the fees that AT&T intends to charge for SMS.  As people migrate to these messaging apps, I think people will see the short comings of SMS.  Here is the top downloads list.

AIM on the iPhone is out and free

The lines are forming fast and furious at Apple and AT&T stores all across the world and anticipation has reached a furor pitch for the 3G iPhone tomorrow.  But, not wanting to trump tomorrow’s excitement, Apple released iTunes 7.7 that has AppStore support (AIM MusicLink works with iTunes 7.7) and with the iPhone SDK 2.0 posted this morning, apps can now be downloaded and installed!

We have posted the AIM client that we first debuted on stage at the iPhone SDK launch back in March.  The client has been improved with some really cool features new to the AIM client, including gestures to start new messages and switch between conversations, as well as the ability to use the iPhone camera to take a picture and make the picture your buddy icon.  A bunch of people asked how we wrote the client, and the answer is that we used our Open AIM Web APIs to write this client.  The client is free and available on the AppStore now.

Vivaty AMO and some Open AIM love on Techcrunch

Techcrunch wrote this morning about a Vivaty plugin that was written for AIM.  The same plugin was also written for Facebook’s platform.  Vivaty Scenes was one of the plugins that launched in June when we released AIM 6.8 and AIM Modules.  First, I want to say it was nice that Techcrunch gave OpenAIM some love, as some of our apps and plugins rival the usage of the most popular Facebook or MySpace apps.  AIM as a platform sometimes flies under the radar of the blogosphere, but it is the only synchronous real-time communication platform that allows the building of your own applications as well as application hosting and sharing of our social graph via the AIM Buddy List.

With regards to Vivaty Scenes, their app is hosted in the AIM Buddy List as an AIM Module (AMO).  Their app is currently in beta, and requires XP or Vista with IE6+.  You can download the AIM Module from the AIM Gallery.

AIM MusicLink

Happy Monday everyone!  I am posting the latest version of AIM MusicLink that contains support for a new media player as well as a couple of fixes for some old bugs.  In AIM MusicLink, I have added support for XM Player version  MusicLink now has support for 8 different media players.  The full list can be found on the AIM MusicLink home page.

I have also fixed two bugs that have been around for a while.  ITunes would report the current song even if the player was paused or stopped.  MusicLink will only set an ITunes song if the player is playing a song now.  The other bug that I fixed involved Windows Media Player.  People were reporting that WMP songs were getting set in their AIM Status even when WMP was not running.  I have fixed an issue where if the player exits the WMP plugin was reporting the wrong information.  If WMP crashes, which does happen, MusicLink may still report the incorrect information.

Download the latest AIM MusicLink here.

Will SMS go the way of the Dodo Bird?

A post on Silicon Alley two days ago regarding AT&T’s different iPhone plans caught my attention.  Dan Frommer, writes that AT&T is “screwing its customers by not offering a text message plan in between their 200/$5 and 1500/$15.”  But this is not a problem since there will be “a handful of instant messaging apps” released on the 11th.

The iPhone which, without doubt, has moved the ball down the field as far as smartphones are concerned, I believe is about to change the way all of us do real time synchronous communication via our mobile device.  Since most if not all people will have unlimited data with the iPhone, it makes more sense to use a messaging client rather than pay per SMS.  Messaging clients bring with it, presence, rich-text messages, user customization, such as status, avatars, etc, a familiar experience, and most importantly the ability to do advanced features like photo sharing and file transfer, both of which cannot be done via MMS since it is not supported on the iPhone right now.

SMS is not going away over night, but the iPhone will make it more attractive to NOT use SMS because the IM clients for the phone will be very good.  I am looking forward to seeing what RIM and Android can churn out to keep up.  As I wrote yesterday, here at AOL, we have a very nice AIM client for the Windows Mobile Platform.

AIM Express Beta 3

Yesterday we released a new version of AIM Express Beta 3 that addresses a bunch of bugs as well as a few feature requests.

  • Improved connection & performance
  • Shortcut key to start a new IM with someone on or not on your Buddy List, use CTRL + /
  • Report Abuse on users who are IM’ing with threatening messages
  • Clear History in your IM from the right click menu on with IM window
  • We’ve added a dropdown menu on each IM window with some actions you can take for each buddy

Note: We are asking that everyone update to the latest version of Adobe Flash 9 for AIM Express, as Flash just recently fixed a serious security flaw.  As always we love to get feedback on this client, as the features above are a direct result of all the great feedback we are getting.

Heading to NYC on Wednesday

For all the AOL-ers up in New York City, I will be up at the 770 Broadway AOL Headquarters on Wednesday to give a speech on OpenAIM.  Come on by and check out the latest that AIM and Open AIM has to offer.  In the past month alone we have been really busy working on AIM.  Here are just a few highlights:

As you can see it was a busy month of June.  My talk on Wednesday is at 12PM, I will have some OpenAIM swag on me, so make sure you come by and say “hi.”