'AIM this story' on FOXSports.com

Written by Adrian Holovaty on September 10, 2003

I just learned that FOXSports.com has added "AIM this story" links on its story pages (example), right up there with "Print this story" and "Email this story":

Screenshot of 'AIM this story' link and icon

Bravo. That's a great way to encourage word-of-mouth marketing by the thousands of people who leave Instant Messenger open all day long. Although other sites have been doing this already, FOXSports is the first big-name site that's jumped on the bandwagon, to my knowledge.

A few thoughts on this technique:

  • Their current solution works well as a single-click step, but in the long run, a more generic "IM this story" would be a better service. A second screen could let users select the instant-messaging software they used and send the message from there. Of course, it's possible AOL paid FOXSports to include this feature on each story page, in which case the business decision of money vs. user-friendliness is Fox's to make.
  • The FOXSports link uses the AOL-proprietary aim: protocol. Using that protocol assumes the user has either installed AOL Instant Messenger or messed with obscure parameters to get the aim: protocol to work correctly in a browser. Do Web junkies like you and me know this? Yes. Does Uncle Fred realize his computer must have AIM installed in order to use such a link? Not necessarily. At the very least, the link should say something like "Requires AOL Instant Messenger," or even "Requires AIM," with a link to download the program.
  • I was going to suggest that FOXSports implement some sort of JavaScript detection of whether the aim: protocol was valid on the user's computer, and then display the link only if it were available. But I Googled and hacked around, and there doesn't seem to be a way to detect available protocols in a browser. (Please correct me if I'm wrong.) You'd think those security-conscious folks at Microsoft would have thought to put a detectAvailableProtocols() method in Internet Explorer's JavaScript implementation.


Posted by Adrian on September 10, 2003, at 8:58 a.m.:

That last part was sarcastic.

Posted by prawnFresh on September 10, 2003, at 11:17 a.m.:

You could cheat and use an IFRAME couldn't you? Point the IFRAME to an aim: protocol 'doobrey' and then use JavaScript to detect what content it brings back.

This sounds too easy for it to be possible but since I don't run AIM so i can't try it out.

Posted by Chris on September 10, 2003, at 4:12 p.m.:

Fox Sports has been using this for at least 2 years... its nothing new.

Posted by Adrian on September 10, 2003, at 4:49 p.m.:

The IFRAME idea sounds like it might work...

Chris: Thanks for the pointer. The only information I could find about when Fox started doing this was a recent comment on E-Media Tidbits, so I appreciate your clarification.

Posted by Rich on September 10, 2003, at 5:37 p.m.:

Are there equivalent protocols for IM clients such as MSN Messenger or ICQ?

And what actually happens when you click the 'AIM this story' link? In MSN Messenger one has to open a chat window with a recipient before anything can be sent, so I was wondering what use flow is in AIM's case. (Obviously I could install AIM and find out myself but...)

Posted by Julie on September 11, 2003, at 12:27 a.m.:

If you have AIM it opens a chat window with a blank "To:" field and inserts the linked URL preceded by "Check this story out:" in the message field

If you don't have AIM you get a generic "Invalid syntax error" page (not FOXSports 404 page) ... "This page connot be displayed..."

Posted by Kim in SLC on September 14, 2003, at 6:28 p.m.:

Another issue is with Macs using Jaguar's iChat. It runs on the same platform as AIM and talks with those on the AIM network. My mom uses AIM and I use iChat, which essentially works just like a Mac-ified AIM in most respects. However, when I tested the "AIM this story" link it attempted to launch an old install of AIM from my pre-OSX days rather than using the already-open iChat.

Comments have been turned off for this page.