AOL will open up AIM Phoneline to external developers to let them create hardware devices and software applications for this Internet telephony service.AOL will give developers access to the AIM Phoneline platform via application programming interfaces (APIs), the Dulles, Va., Web portal said Thursday.AOL, a subsidiary of Time Warner, will make the APIs generally available in this year\u2019s fourth quarter, but it will show devices and applications built with the APIs at next week\u2019s Fall 2006 VON Conference in Boston.The move is part of a larger trend at AOL and among Internet companies in general to enrich their online services with add-ins, applications and devices created by external developers.Companies like AOL, Google, Yahoo and Amazon.com realize they benefit from tapping into the creativity of external developers, be they individuals or corporate programmers.The resulting applications, often called mash-ups, extend online services in ways and directions that the Internet companies may not have considered or may lack the resources to explore.For AIM Phoneline, which is the voice-over-IP (VoIP) service of AOL\u2019s AIM instant-messaging service, the hope is that device manufacturers and voice application developers will use the APIs to build new hardware peripherals and software features.AOL plans to introduce three APIs in the fourth quarter to let developers create ring tones for AIM Phoneline, let cordless phones function with AIM Phoneline and build call-management features for the service.Along with the APIs, AOL is formally launching the Open AIM Phoneline initiative, an outreach program for external developers interested in extending the service.The program includes a competition for developers called the Open AIM Phoneline Developers\u2019 Challenge. AOL will accept AIM Phoneline applications between Sept. 11 and Nov. 30. The winners will be announced in January 2007. The first-place winner will receive US$3,500, while $1,000 will be awarded for second place. More information will be posted here.The Open AIM Phoneline program will also have an online store featuring applications and devices built by external developers.AIM has about 43 million users in the United States. AIM Phoneline, launched in May, offers AIM users a free phone number, free online voice mail and unlimited incoming calls. For outbound calling, AOL offers a plan for $9.95 a month for calls to the United States, Canada and 30 other countries.AIM Phoneline competes in a crowded market for Internet telephony that also includes services from eBay \u2019s Skype, Vonage Holdings, Yahoo and AT&T.-Juan Carlos Perez, IDG News Service (Miami Bureau)Check out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.