AOL Chat Fix

Background information by C. Kevin Provance

I felt the need to attach my name to this section, as the following information contains some of my personal opinions.  If you came here looking for the AOL Chat Fix program and could care less about the history behind AOL's reasoning in what they have done, please feel free to skip this section.  Otherwise, read on...

In October of 2009, AOL introduced it's membership to "AIM chat".  You might have noticed it if you went to Keyword: Find A Chat.  In the past, the AOL Chat Rooms Listings window would have opened allowing to you browse chat rooms by category.  With the introduction of AIM Chat, this familiar window was replaced with a web page informing you, and I quote "AOL Chat is now...AIM Chat".  It's a very deceptive page with a huge "Chat Now" button that would take you directly to the new AIM Chat interface, which is nothing more than a redesigned Bebo chat system.  In case you did not know, AOL bought out Bebo some time back.  It was supposed to be AOL's answer to MySpace and Facebook.  You might have noticed that the AOL Profile system was converted to the Bebo system, as was the "Locate Member Online" feature, and the "Buddy Info" feature.  Several features unique to AOL were now Bebo features.  Then AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) was given the same treatment.  Some folks may have seen this as an improvement, although I have yet to meet or talk to any of them.  In my opinion, it's far from an improvement (which is a nice way of saying "it sucks" <g>).  Most Bebo interfaces usually kick  back some kind of javascript error and just plain do not work as intended.  So be it.  I stopped using them.  But I knew on the horizon there was this dark cloud that may eventually work it's way here, and that dark cloud was called "Bebo chat".

If you've any done any beta testing for AOL (Keyword: BETA) then chances are you know what I'm talking about.  The occasional chat session that AOL Beta offers are done via the Bebo chat interface.  If you've never seen it, the short version is it's a web based chat window that looks and acts nothing like the AOL chat interface we've all come to know and love for so many years (close to fifteen in my case).  I wondered (or feared) when I first saw this web based chat window if this was the direction AOL was headed in with their chat interface.  It was clear none of the chat based programs I offer would work with it.  I knew that if AOL moved their chat system to this web based version it would be all over for WavMan.  This was a few years back.

Fast forward to October of 2009.  I started receiving E-Mails from WavMan customers that the WavMan Room Manager was no longer working in that rooms were not updating because the AOL Chat Room Listing window had been replaced with AIM Chat.  My fears had finally been realized.  AOL was going to do away with their FDO (Form Display Operation) chat interface and replace it with this horrible Bebo thing that passes for chat rooms.  This irked me for more than one reason, the biggest was I had just spent the entire summer working on a new feature for WavMan called "Moderator's Tools" that would now be completely moot.

For a moment, let's go back to the web page with the "AOL Chat is now...AIM Chat" message and it's deceptive nature.  First, you should probably be aware that AOL is using Google Analytics to monitor what members are doing on that particular page.  Second, placing a huge "Chat Now" button is very eye catching, and those folks who simply prefer to start AOL and go to chat would not even realize there was an alternative to go back to the old chat rooms, which is now being termed "Classic Chat".  Third, at the bottom of that web page is a check box that says "Don't show this page in the future" which if checked will lock in your decision.  Finally, in little tiny letters under the chat button there is a link that says "No thanks. Take me to Classic Chat."  This is the link that will take you back to the AOL Chat Room Listings window that we all know so well.  It seems that many folks are choosing to click the "Don't show this page in the future" check box and clicking "Chat Now" which locks them into the new AIM Chat interface.  They quickly decide it's not what they want and would prefer the Classic Chat, but guess what?  It's too late.  The choice was made and it cannot be taken back without going through several steps that require a fair understanding of Windows and Internet Explorer.  For those folks who just want it to work without all the fuss, this latest AOL change became a nightmare.  The People Connection message board were being flooded with complaints, demanding the old chat rooms back.  Most do not realize they were duped into their choice and it is possible to go back to Classic Chat, but it's a song and a dance to do so.

Based on the majority of messages I read, one would have to contact AOL tech support (and hope they got someone who spoke decent English) where instructions were available to get back to the Classic Chat interface.  The good news is that any chat rooms you have saved in your favourite places are unaffected.

The story of why is the same as it's always been.  Advertising and money.  AOL, in theory would stand to make more money through advertising on the new web based chat interface.  If you've seen it already, you understand what I mean.  It's a glom of various advertisements that take precedence over actual features.  Since AOL makes money simply displaying the ad, it does not matter if anyone bothers to click-through.  The more ads displayed, the more money they make.  The Classic FDO chat rooms display one ad (and are also tracked via Google Analytics...I know this because AOL crashes when opening a chat room with a machine debugger running.  After the crash, the debugger opens with the offending script, which is for Google Analytics) and is not very profitable.  It is my opinion - as it has always been - that AOL cares very little about what their users want in an effort to grab as much money as they can before it all goes under.  I think they avoided a huge uprising by offering the Classic Chat but made it very unapparent and difficult to undo.  They can still claim they offered a choice, however badly implemented.

It really bothers me when big companies, like AOL put the blocks to the little guy, also known as their customers.  In the decade and a half I've been writing these add on programs for AOL, it's always been my goal to solve the problems they create for their customers.  This started in 1996 with AutoDialer when connecting to the service was impossible due to the flat monthly pricing.  Then again with Terminator when AOL decided to knock folks offline at any given time due to "inactivity" or every 46 minutes for no good reason at all.  Now AOL has done it again with the duplicitous AIM Chat interface.

I like a good challenge and this new problem was as good a challenge as any.  How to undo the damage of AOL forcing their users to this new AIM Chat without having to go through a complicated list of steps.  So I spent a boring Saturday researching the problem and devising a solution which makes fixing this issue as simple as starting a tiny program, choosing which interface you want to use and clicking "Apply".  That's it.

Enter "AOL Chat Fix".

How the program works

There it is.  How much more simple could that be?

I can already hear the next question.  How much is this going to cost me?  How does *nothing* sound?  Yeah, I thought you might like that answer.  The solution was not as complicated as I though it would be once I understood what was going on.  If you're a developer, it's as simple as InternetGetCookie and InternetSetCookie.  To put it in layman's terms, when the choice is made at the "AOL Chat is now...AIM Chat" web page, and the "Don't show this page in the future" option is checked, AOL saves the choice in a browser cookie.  A small text file in the Temporary Internet History folder.  The same cookie that also saves the Google Analytics data, I might add.

It's no big secret really.  Viewing the HTML source code on the "AOL Chat is now...AIM Chat" web page revealed all.  When that web page is opened, via Keyword: FIND A CHAT, it looks inside a cookie called "aim.chat.com" for a value called "FDO_TYPE".  If the return value is "AIM" then the web browser opens the AIM Chat interface.  Conversely, if the return value is "CLASSIC", the AOL Chat Room Listings window is opened.  The cookie is set not to expire for 10000 days, which pretty much means the choice is permanent  From a developer's perspective, it's a sloppy hack job.  It also means that if you've chosen the Classic Chat option, every time you visit Keyword: FIND A CHAT you're going to see the flash of a web browser opening and quickly closing while it reads the FDO_TYPE=CLASSIC option from the browser cookie.  One has to wonder how long AOL will continue to offer this Classic Chat option before they completely remove it.

In the meantime, the AOL Chat Fix program will not only fix the problem, but will allow you to switch back and forth between the chat modes, should you be inclined to do so.

Here is how the program works:  When the program is started, it looks directly into the aim.chat.com cookie for the FDO_TYPE entry.  If it finds that entry, it will read it's value and display the current choice by filling in the appropriate option button.  If no entry or cookie is found, it will tell you as much and default to the Classic Chat option.  You would then need only click "Apply" to complete the process.  Clicking Apply does nothing more than write either "CLASSIC" or "AIM" to the FDO_TYPE value inside the cookie.

So for those of you who are here because you're hopelessly stuck with the AIM Chat interface and cannot figure out the instructions to fix it, it's my pleasure to offer this program, 100% free of charge.  No strings attached.

But, while you're here, why not check out the other chat programs I offer.  Maybe you'll find something you like. Or if you're feeling generous, donations can be made via PayPal.  No obligation, I'm just supposing.  :-)

As always, you may email me any comments or suggestions at kevin@tpasoft.com,  Please be aware that since this program is free and since it only requires two steps to use, there really isn't any support for it.  If something goes wrong with it, it will display an error message which you may send, but otherwise it's "as-is".