File-swapping volumes have ramped tremendously over the past few years, despite aggressive legal action by major labels.
But decentralized, P2P networks are only one component of an expanding online swap meet. BitTorrent is now grabbing the market for heavier downloads – including albums – and mechanisms like IM are solving simpler, one-to-one sharing needs.
The not-so-secret surge in IM-based swapping is difficult to control, and systems like AIM and Yahoo Messenger are chief culprits. Of course, file-swapping over instant messenger clients also involves the sharing of legal documents, spreadsheets, images, and everything in-between. But friends can discretely share copyrighted music, videos, and other content just as easily.
Against that background, AOL has tossed an interesting sharing feature into its latest AIM 6.5 upgrade. The beta AIM Tunes allows users to stream the collections of friends by diving into faraway music folders.
AIM Tunes definitely functions like a beta release, but most of the framework is bolted together properly. Early users will have to endure some timeouts and other snafus, though beta testers are usually understanding.
And many features are well-executed. The application quickly finds the music folder of a friend, and presents the contents in a clear manner. From there, users can pick-and-choose tracks and stream selections. Songs can be sampled one-by-one, or assembled into a playlist. Currently, threading a continuous playlist together within the AIM Tunes application remains a challenge, though a playlist file can easily be saved and accessed within Winamp, iTunes, or another media jukebox.
The web-based interface is less thrilling than a client-integrated approach, especially considering some of the cool, sharing features offered within the Yahoo Messenger client. Incidentally, AIM also offers streaming AOL Radio and XM Satellite stations within its application.
Meanwhile, advertisers Amazon and Pandora are already on board with AIM Tunes. Amazon even identifies the track being streamed and offers a downloadable, MP3-based purchase link.
In terms of the legal terrain, AIM Tunes flirts with some foggy interpretations. Tracks can be plucked on-demand from voluminous collections, and played ad infinitum – as long as various friend-to-friend connections are in place. Entire albums can also be cordoned off and listened to, as long as the other user is active. Of course, the core AIM application still allows person-to-person file-sharing, a far less scrupulous alternative.
AIM Tunes does not stream protected songs.
Review by editor Paul Resnikoff.