December 9, 1999 5:25 PM PST

AOL, Tribal Voice to negotiate on instant messaging

America Online has agreed to sit down with instant messaging rival Tribal Voice to seek ways to end an escalating battle over access to the online giant's user base, according to a Tribal Voice spokeswoman.

Word of the negotiations came after AT&T and its partner Tribal Voice said today that they had circumvented AOL's efforts to block their respective customers from exchanging messages.

Yesterday, AOL blocked AT&T's WorldNet I M Here instant messaging service--which was developed by Tribal Voice--from reaching users of its AIM program.

The two companies agreed to meet after Tribal Voice introduced the fix, according to Beth Nagengast, an instant message product manager at Tribal Voice. She said the companies early next year will hold "initial conversations in an effort to start laying the groundwork for cooperation."

AOL could not immediately be reached for comment.

Instant messaging, made popular by AOL, allows users to communicate with friends and family in a real-time chat format. AOL has dominated the niche by maintaining 45 million screen names in its AIM "Buddy List" network and an additional 40 million registrations in ICQ, the instant messaging software it acquired last year.

It was unclear what AOL might Puppet masters: Who controls the Netseek in negotiations with Tribal Voice. AOL has opened its instant messaging network to competitors in the past. In October, for example, AOL signed an agreement to develop a custom version of AOL Instant Messenger for Web portal Lycos.

But AOL has steadfastly sought to block competitors from freely accessing its network.

AOL this year battled Microsoft to a standstill on the issue, leading Microsoft to throw in the towel on interoperability last month. During the dispute, AOL accused Microsoft of "hacking" into its network of users.

Tribal Voice refused to describe the workaround it used to thwart AOL. Tribal Voice's Nagengast said the fix was not a hack but refused to elaborate other than to say that the company had made use of protocols published by AOL.


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