Nearly two years ago, Google purchased a 5% stake in AOL. Today, users of Google's Gmail web-based e-mail application are seeing first-hand the benefits of the deal: Google has introduced support for AIM Instant Messenger to the chat software built into Gmail.
Gmail's chat function is more or less an embedded version of Google's Google Talk instant messaging software. It displays the user's contact list in the left pane and allows one to send and receive instant messages straight from Gmail via hovering chat windows. With the new AOL Instant Messenger integration, users can now sign into their AIM account and talk with their AIM contacts from Gmail pages, too.
The integration may not be much more than a curiosity for users already comfortably settled into their instant messaging software of choice (be it single- or multi-protocol), but it presents an interesting opportunity for folks who frequently use PCs other than their own with no IM software installed. Gmail's chat functionality supports conversations with multiple contacts, and it lets users carry on conversations while they navigate to Gmail's different screens to read, write, and send e-mails. The functionality is usable in a tabbed or multi-window browsing scenario, too, since the Gmail page title changes to notify users when they've received a new message.